Time Spent in Education Is Causal Risk Factor for Myopia

Credit CC0 Public Domain

Credit CC0 Public Domain

Over the years, the scientists have found - as education has become more formal and standardised, the prevalence of myopia in young adults has increased from around 1 percent in 1980s to about 80-90 percent today.

Analyses suggested that every additional year of education was associated with more myopia. The research involved more than 67,000 people from the United Kingdom who were between the ages of 40 and 69 years old.

But a new study used a genetic technique called Mendelian randomization to minimize the effect of severalvariables and provide stronger evidence of cause and effect.

Myopia, or short-sight, is one of leading causes of visual disability in the world. It's been observed that children with myopia are more studious, or socioeconomic position and a higher level of education leads to myopia.

So researchers based at the University of Bristol and Cardiff University set out to determine whether education is a direct (causal) risk factor for myopia, or myopia is a causal risk factor for more years in education.

The lead author, Dr. Denize Atan, a consultant senior lecturer in ophthalmology at the University of Bristol, said the mechanism is unknown but may have something to do with reduced exposure to natural daylight.

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A college graduate with 17 years of continuous education would be on average, more myopic than someone with only 12 years of education. This difference in myopia severity is sufficient to obscure vision for driving underneath lawful benchmarks. The researchers found "strong evidence" that education was one of the drivers behind higher myopia rates.

Exactly how increasing levels of education cause myopia can not be known from MR analyses, although there are possible clues from recognised environmental risk factors.

They are yet to identify how exactly more time in education causes myopia.

The researchers did note that their study had some limitations, for example participants taking part in UK Biobank are known to be more highly educated, have healthier lifestyles, and report fewer health problems compared with the general UK population, which may have affected the results. Evidence has already shown that outdoor light can have a protective effect against the development of the condition.

Experts pointed to the experience in East Asia, where schooling means early intense educational pressures and little time for play outdoors. Children from developed East and Southeast Asian countries regularly say that they spend less time outdoors than children from Australia or the USA and randomised controlled trials have shown that more time spent outdoors during childhood protects against the development of myopia. But there was insufficient evidence that this could explain the findings.

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