The need to wear glasses for nearsightedness, officially called myopia, was linked to higher levels of education in a recent study. The main outcomes of the study were that the prevalence of nearsightedness and the magnitude of myopia were associated with the number of years spent in school and the level of professional education, such as continued education training. Simply put, it seems the more people read and study, the worse their eyesight becomes.
The study was carried out by researchers at the University Medical Center Mainz in Mainz, Germany and 4,685 people between 35 years old and 74 years old participated. Self-reports regarding education were collected and vision was measured with a standard clinical measuring technique.
The specific results of the study indicated that 24 percent of participants who did not complete high school were nearsighted, 35 percent who achieved graduation from high school were nearsighted and 53 percent of college graduates were nearsighted. The differences in these percentages were found to be statistically significant. Considering the percentage of college graduates who are nearsighted and need to wear glasses for distance is over 50 percent, this is not a small effect.
If one has myopia then they would need to wear glasses for distance vision. People with high myopia have severe loss of distance vision and, before better eyeglasses technology, they were the people who needed to wear glasses that were nicknamed “coke-bottle” type glasses. Coke-bottle glasses are called that because they have really thick glass as lenses. This study looked at the need to wear glasses for nearsightedness only and they did not do any analysis on the need to wear reading glasses. The need to wear reading glasses occurs with age, starting at around age 45 years old. This phenomenon is due to the lens not being able to change shape and adjust the focus of the lens as aging occurs.
Myopia is known to have a genetic component. There are some genes that predispose people to having myopia which necessitates glasses. This study, however, was the first to show that there is an environmental, or experiential, component as well. Reading would be considered the experiential component contributing to the results of this study.
The study did not analyze the difference between spending time reading from books or reading words on a computer screen. It would be interesting to see if there is a different effect for each and also if there will be a generational difference discovered in the future. Many adults have been viewing computers regularly during the day at work but they did not grow up using computers from childhood. Adults today started out reading books and only during the latter half of their adulthood switched to computers or devices such as the Nook which is a type of reading tablet, or “eReader”. Young adults and children, however, are using computers consistently for schoolwork (among other things) and will likely continue to move towards more heavy computer use rather than reading books.
Using the type of official wording that is often found in scientific journals, it can be said that studying for longer periods of time can put one “at risk” for developing myopia and needing glasses. The authors of the study report suggested that a way to reduce this risk for a need to wear glasses for nearsightedness would be to go outdoors more often, take more breaks from reading and alter one’s visual experience. So the next time one is tempted to get up and walk around in the office to mingle with co-workers, mentioning this study and the suggestion of the author to take breaks from reading just might work as a good excuse.
By Margaret Lutze