Local optometrists are raising awareness of the benefits of outdoor time for children's eyes as new research reveals that most Illawarra children are spending more than double the amount of time indoors on screens than the World Health Organisation recommendation.
The research (*) reports that NSW children spend an average of 2.6 hours on screens each day, with 14 per cent, equivalent to 10,184 children in the Illawarra area, spending more than four hours (#). The data also reveals NSW children are spending most of their screen time at home in the lounge (64 per cent) or their bedroom (44 per cent), compared with school/day care (15 per cent).
The findings were uncovered by Specsavers optometrists as part of a research project designed to better understand screen use amongst children and parental understanding of their child's eye health.
Specsavers Corrimal optometrist Leslie Wong says, "I understand how strong the pull of digital screens is for children and I also know that the way children learn and play is drastically changing as technology becomes increasingly incorporated into everyday life.
"It's no surprise that 91 per cent of NSW parents say digital screen time is top of the list for their children's health concerns. But what is surprising for many is that when it comes to eye health, the biggest problem with screen time is nothing to do with the actual screens.
"It's simply the fact that normally when kids are on screens like phones and computers, there is a lot of near vision work that is often indoors without natural light. That's the part that's bad for your eyes. So other near vision, inside work like homework and reading can have a similar negative effect on the eye."
Of NSW parents concerned that their child's current level of screen time was bad for their health (61 per cent), 80 per cent think it will stop them getting enough exercise, 75 per cent believe it is bad for their eyes and 74 per cent think it may impact social skills. While most NSW parents (59 per cent) believe their children should be spending less time on screens because it's bad for their health, most are unsure of ways to tackle it.
The average time spent on screens per day are: 3.2 hours for those aged between 13 and 17, 2.4 hours for those aged between nine and 12, 2.1 hours for those aged between five and eight and 1.9 hours for those aged between zero and four.
"Staring at screens and being indoors for extended periods of time can increase the risk of myopia or becoming short-sighted. This means the eyes focus well only on close objects, while more distant objects appear blurred. Children are more at risk of this, as their eyes are still developing," Leslie says.
"The biggest message I would like to get across to parents is to make sure their children spend time outside playing and if parents are worried about the impacts of screen time on their child's eye health, the best thing to do is to book in to see an optometrist for an eye test.
"The school holidays are the perfect opportunity to encourage healthy eye habits - anything from running around the garden to helping mum and dad with errands could have a huge benefit for the eyes!" she says.