Why More Children Are Nearsighted Now and What We Can Do About It

Childhood myopia (nearsightedness) is on track to reach epidemic levels in the United States and worldwide by the middle of this century.

“In general, we’ve seen a trend toward increased myopia in children, along with an earlier onset, and this has been climbing for about 50 years,” says Katherine Lee, MD, PhD, president of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and the medical director of pediatric ophthalmology at St. Luke’s Regional Hospital in Boise, Idaho. “Both trends are worrisome, because if myopia is progressing faster and is starting in children, then when childhood is done a good proportion of youngsters are going to be significantly nearsighted.”

It’s too soon for researchers to confirm the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect. But Dr. Lee and other experts say it seems to have accelerated both incidence and onset, fueling a rapid rise in nearsightedness that could affect more than 4.7 billion people — almost half the world’s population — by 2050.

Worse, these increases — more of today’s children becoming nearsighted at an earlier age — threaten to eventually saddle more of them with high myopia, extreme nearsightedness that may lead to serious vision-threatening conditions later in life.