My job requires that I spend a lot of time staring at a computer. Nearsighted since middle school, all this screen time has sharply intensified my vision problems. Without contacts or glasses, the world is increasingly fuzzy: From a distance, traffic lights, which once resembled crushed Skittles, now look more like fireworks.
I'm not alone in the blurriness. According to new research from Kings College London, nearsightedness – the inability to clearly see distant objects – is on the rise across Europe, probably due in part to the fact that people are spending more time in front of computers and other screens.
In a meta-analysis of studies covering more than 60,000 people, researchers found that while around a quarter of the overall European population is nearsighted, that percentage shoots up to nearly half (47.2 percent) for younger individuals aged 25 to 29.
Higher education has been linked to nearsightedness in the past, and this new study found that it was indeed highly predictive: Individuals who received a college degree are about twice as likely to be nearsighted than those who left school before 16. While partially due to genetics and social factors, the researchers speculate that the correlation is also caused by "the nature of modern education such as more time devoted to studying and working with computers and less time spent outside."
Globally, nearsightedness is on the rise. "We knew myopia [the technical name for nearsightedness] was becoming more common in certain parts of the world – almost eight in 10 young people are affected in urban East Asia – but it is very interesting to find that the same pattern is being seen here in Europe," Katie Williams, one of the study's authors, said in the statement.
Stipulated Chris Hammond, another researcher: "While this study was on adults, we do not yet know the impact of the recent rapid rise in use of computers, tablets and mobile phones on visual development in children."
Perhaps not. But judging from the discrepancy in nearsightedness between older Europeans, who did not grow up with computers, and their younger counterparts, who did, I'm guessing myopia is on the up and up.