Are schools ruining kids' eyes with poor lighting?

'Turn on a light, or you're gonna ruin your eyes.'

Chances are some adult shouted that at you when you were growing up, or that you yourself have berated some youngster with the same advice (if the kid's actually reading, say, a book, rather than a backlit screen).

But you're probably less familiar with this version: 'Don't go to school, or you're gonna ruin your eyes.'

That is essentially what an independent UK researcher is warning.

Writing in the Royal Society for Public Health's Perspectives in Public Health, researcher Richard Hobday notes that classrooms with insufficient levels of natural light may trigger myopia in children (myopia, of course, is short-sightedness in laymen's terms, near-sightedness to our American readers).

Hobday says it's high time to re-investigate the connection, which researchers began suspecting in the mid-19th century, but which they have never conclusively proven. The theory has fallen in and out of favour over the years, with some experts claiming that genetics - not environment - cause myopia.

But with childhood myopia on the rise globally and reaching 'epidemic levels in east Asia,' Hobday calls for more studies.

'Recent research strongly suggests that the amount of light children get as they grow determines whether they will develop short sight; however, evidence that daylight in classrooms prevents myopia is lacking. Given the rapid increase in prevalence among school children worldwide, this should be investigated.'

The author says that myopia in children is 'a global public health problem,' and notes that it has been increasing for 50 years.

'The most dramatic rise has been in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, China’s cities and elsewhere in east Asia,' he says. 'In some cases, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of children leaving secondary school are short-sighted, and of these, some 10 per cent to 20 per cent have high myopia and so are at risk of blindness in later life.'

Hobday sketches out a history of how school building practices have shifted over the years, influenced by things like myopia theories, oil crises and educational theory. In one of the story's more curious factoids, Hobday notes that in the 1970s, the US state of Florida mandated that schools have no windows (and lots of air conditioning).

While no one seems yet to know for sure, it looks as though it's time to bring on more windows.

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Photo is from Stocker1970 via Shutterstock

Comments 4

Nothing like a good alarmist, Daily Mail headline for an article is there? Kids are at school for 5-7 years we should be more concerned about the period of time they spend engrossed in iPads and computers and how detrimental it is to their eyes. What about the next 60 odd years when they will be working longer hours in ill-lit offices? Nonsense.

Very well said Henry Elebra sld, it is the quality of a light source. Well the sunlight could be well a good light source bringing in more natural lighting is a good way to start.

I think, this is more caused by the fact, that children do stay more inside buildings and do not so often play outside as I could do in my youth. Since more children are looking much TV and playing with their computers, their eyes are treated with artificial light, from what source ever may be. Is there any research existing which is contributing to the facts in the change of our life? Is there any monitoring about the food which the children consume or the time relation indoor/ outdoor? Would be interesting if such results would be taken into comparence. If we only look to the blue spec of artificial light sources we need to consider also that in some hemispheres of our planet people prefer warm light colours and in other regions they use rather cold light. Comming to the school-light, it is my experience thata good part of class rooms have old and outworn luminaires and lamps which give a very bad light specially during the darker time of the year due to lack of money for proper maintenance. This causes also more stress to the eyes of children despite the rules and laws to protect young poeple. How would it be with special full-spec daylight sources for childrens rooms and schools ?

Mind you eager sales people and light suppliers, a solution is not to increase the amount of artificial light (lux levels) but instead study the effects of quality light sources. The quality of a light source is in the physics of the light rays hence my conviction on the rise in myopia cases is due to the excessive use of fluorescent lights.

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