In just over three decades, half of the world will have myopia – that's around 5 billion people who will need glasses for short-sightedness by 2050.
That's the main finding from a new study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, that took an extensive look at weary eyes across the world.
The projections of a looming myopia-boom are based on the recent increase in cases of short-sightedness, along with general population growth. Researchers from the Brien Holden Vision Institute gathered data from 145 studies covering 2.1 million participants from all corners of the globe. From this pool, they worked out around 22.9 percent of the world’s population had some form of short-sightedness in the year 2000.
If current trends continue, the world population will be around 10 billion by 2050. Out of this, 5 billion will have myopia and around 1 billion will have severe short-sightedness (high myopia.) Based on these numbers, severe short-sightedness will be on track to be the world’s leading cause of permanent blindness.
This study found an exceptional spike in myopia in East Asia, particularly among its younger people. As Wired pointed out, another recent study showed that up to 96 percent of 19-year-old males in Seoul, South Korea, were short-sighted.
Not surprisingly, the dramatic increase in squinters is thought to be linked to our modern lifestyle and environmental factors. The researchers believe our culture has led to “decreased time outdoors and increased near work activities” than previous generations, putting a new strain on our eyes. In tandem with this, they highlighted that 21st-century life involves staring into a lot of nearby electronic screens.
Although the rise in East Asia is partially down to their recent spurts of population growth, the research also suggested it's exacerbated by the “high-pressure educational systems, especially at very young ages in countries such as Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, and China” – with more and more students spending their evenings in front of a laptop or computer.
As the authors point out, with ever-accelerating urbanization and technological advancement, our bleary eyes aren’t getting a break from straining anytime soon. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Interventions like corrective lenses can slow myopia from progressing and have the potential to prevent the onset of high myopia, so increased awareness and government action could ultimately make a difference.