Nearsightedness is a refractive error, whereby the eye does not bend or refract light correctly, causing close objects to look clear but distant objects to appear blurred.
Not only does severe nearsightedness cause visual impairment, but it is also linked with increased risk of retinal detachment, myopic macular degeneration, premature cataracts and glaucoma.
The study conducted by researchers led by Dr. Alireza Mirshahi of the University Medical Center in Mainz, Germany is the first population-based study to show that environmental factors might overshadow genetics in the development of myopia.
To further investigate the relationship between nearsightedness and environmental factors, the researchers examined 4,658 Germans with myopia who were between the ages of 35-74, after excluding any subjects with cataracts or anyone who had refractive surgery in the past.
Overall, their results show that as education level increased, myopia became more prevalent. In detail, they found that 53% of university graduates were nearsighted, compared with 35% of high school graduates and 24% of subjects without a high school education.
Additionally, the team observed that people who spent more years in school were more myopic, with nearsightedness getting worse for every additional year of school. After looking at the effect of 45 genetic markers, they found them to be a much weaker factor in nearsightedness, compared with education level.
As a result of their findings, Dr. Mirshahi says children and young adults should be encouraged to go outside more often: "Since students appear to be at a higher risk of nearsightedness, it makes sense to encourage them to spend more time outdoors as a precaution."
Furthermore, the team notes that recent studies of children and young adults in Denmark and Asia have shown that the more time spent outside exposed to daylight, the less the prevalence and severity of nearsightedness.
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