As modern technology becomes increasingly prevalent in our daily lives, we spend more and more time every day looking at the screens on our cell phone, tablets, and computers. According to the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Sydney, Australia, this lifestyle change will lead to an 800% increase in the number of people suffering from myopia, or nearsightedness, over the next 35 years.
After reviewing 145 different vision related studies, encompassing more than 2.1 million participants over the last 20 years, the Brien Holden Vision Institute has collected enough data to reveal increasing trends in the diagnosis in vision problems that directly correlate to behavioral changes within that same time span. If these projections are accurate, symptoms of myopia will be apparent in an estimated 4.8 billion people by the year 2050.
Unlike some eye related problems which can be hereditary, or develop as we age, even under ideal circumstances, this is an issue largely tied to changes in our environment and our lifestyle. As a 21st century culture, we're spending less time outdoors, and more time focusing on up-close activities, like staring at digital screens, reading and writing, and work that requires fine manual dexterity.
Focusing directly on the numbers involved, it's not looking very good. With such a large increase in the rate of myopia in the global population, it's estimated that it will become the leading cause of permanent blindness in the world. Additionally, the costs associated with this kind of societal change will be substantial. The report states that, in 2010 “The economic burden of uncorrected distance refractive error, largely caused by myopia, was estimated to be £140 billion per year” with that cost rising in proportion to the number of people affected.
According to the authors of the report, this is to be viewed as a worst case scenario that assumes nothing will be done to reduce these numbers, and they have not taken into account any possible corrective actions. For people in the developed countries, this will likely make little difference, as eye care is already highly accessible and affordable. However, for underdeveloped and developing areas of the world, few people will have access to or the means to afford the necessary treatment for nearsightedness.