Kids are losing their ability to see far away — here’s how Scouting can help

Photo by Randy Piland

I can see clearly now … another benefit of Scouting!

Nearsightedness — the ability to see well up close but not at a distance — is a rising problem among children, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

Interestingly enough, Scouting can help.

Pediatric ophthalmologist Noha Ekdawi says spending time outdoors — specifically, in the sunlight — is the best way to prevent myopia, or nearsightedness, in children.

What do most Scout units do several times a month? Go outside!

“It’s a deceptively simple response to a growing public health crisis, but it works, and not enough people know about it,” according to a recent article on the AAO website. “Nearsightedness in children has increased at an alarming rate over the past 30 years. … Although genetics play a role in who develops myopia, the sharp increase suggests that environmental factors may be at play.

“Many experts point to the combination of increased screen time and less time outdoors as factors that may put children at higher risk for developing myopia.”

What is myopia?

Myopia is the result of faulty structure in your eyes. When your eyeball is too long, it can’t focus the light that it perceives correctly. Instead of the focus being directly on the retina, as it should be, the focus is shifted to an area in front of the retina.

The result is that it’s easy to see things up close, like a book or a smartphone, but difficult to see things far away, like a street sign or the TV when you’re on the other side of the room.

Glasses or contact lenses fix the problem by shifting your focus to where it belongs – directly on the retina. However, research shows that severe myopia puts children at risk of potentially more serious problems down the road, according to the AAO.

“It is estimated that about 40% of children ages 6 to 19 years are nearsighted,” the article says. “If nothing is done to help slow the increase, half the world’s population may be nearsighted by the year 2050.”

Photo by Michael Roytek

How can you prevent it?

One basic, simple remedy appears to be going outside and spending more time in the sunlight. Why does this help?

One theory is that kids who spend more time outdoors are more active and having more fun. This results in your brain releasing more dopamine, a chemical that’s important for everyone’s health.

Another theory blames all the time that kids spend on screens – focusing on objects just a few inches from their eyes – instead of outdoors, where they focus on the sky, the trees, that mountain in the distance, or maybe even each other.

“The time to intervene is in early childhood because the earlier a child develops myopia, the more likely they are to develop severe myopia later in life,” says Ekdawi. “So, the goal is to delay the start of myopia and to slow the rate of progression so the child can avoid the worst complications of myopia, like retinal problems.”

Scouting works!

Ekdawi says she sends her children outdoors as often as possible, so they’ll get the dopamine hit that comes with it and spend time focusing their eyes on things other than screens.

Of course, being active in Scouts would achieve the same thing.

Most Cub Scout packs go camping for at least a day or two at a time, and many have regular den meetings outdoors. Scouts BSA units usually camp once per month. And Venturing and Sea Scouts? Getting outdoors is what they do best.

The AAO is quick to point out that screens — just like potato chips and soft drinks — only become a serious problem when we overindulge. Everybody likes to binge TV shows and make video calls with friends. That’s fine, as long as you mix in a little outdoors time — maybe for a Scout outing — as well.

Ekdawi echoes the sentiment of the Cub Scout motto: Do Your Best.

“You don’t have to be 100% perfect,” she says. “Just be pretty good.”

Photo by Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images
About Aaron Derr 258 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.