Keeping screen eye health problems at bay

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New research from Specsavers reveals that most Australian children are spending more than double the amount of time indoors on screens than the World Health Organisation recommendation.

The research reports that Australian children spend an average of 2.5 hours on screens each day, with one in ten, or more than 436,460 children, spending more than four hours1. The data also reveals children are spending most of their screen time at home in the lounge (68%) or their bedroom (44%), compared with school/daycare (15%)

The findings were uncovered as part of a research project designed to better understand screen use among children and parental understanding of their child’s eye health.

The report also showed that:

  • Those aged 13-17 are spending an average of 3.2 hours per day on screens. Those aged between 9-12 are spending an average of 2.4 hours per day on screens. Those aged between 5-8 are spending an average of 2.1 hours per day on screens. Those aged between 0-4 are spending an average of 1.9 hours per day on screens.
  • Aside from eye health concerns (52%), other potential health concerns that parents had about digital screen time are that all the time spent sedentary is hampering their ability to develop their gross motor skills (47%), it disrupts their sleep/ can lead to insomnia (46%) and it negatively affects their mental health (42%).
  • Mums (49%) are more likely than Dads (34%) to say that their child’s screen time is one of their biggest health concerns as a parent.
  • Of those that think that the amount of time that their children spend on screens is good for their health, their children are currently spending an average of 2.4 hours on screens per day, while of those that think the amount of time that their children spend on screens is bad for their health, they are currently spending an average of 2.7 hours on screens per day.

Specsavers optometrist Barbara Vermeulen, who is also a mum of two, said she wasn’t surprised to see that 89% of Australian parents say digital screen time is top of the list for their children’s health concerns.

Barbara, an Optometry Partner at Specsavers Victor Harbor in South Australia said: “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 parents concerned that their child’s current level of screen time was bad for their health (56%), three quarters thought it would stop them getting enough exercise (77%) and two-thirds believed it was bad for their eyes (69%) and social skills (69%). While most parents (57%) 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.

“We need to remind our patients that staring at screens and being indoors for extended periods of time can increase the risk of myopia, and that children are more at risk of this, as their eyes are still developing,” Barbara said.

Specsavers message to parents is to encourage children to spend time outside playing, and if they are worried about the impacts of screen time on their child’s eye health, to book in to see an optometrist for an eye test before their child heads back to school.

 

 

*YouGov Galaxy, Kids Eye Health Study prepared for Specsavers, October 2019. The study was conducted online among a representative sample of 1,013 Australian parents with children under the age of 18.
1Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census, Australia, 2016

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