Today’s New Normal Can Shape a Child’s Tomorrow

Now, perhaps more than ever in my lifetime, the world is focused on health and wellbeing. This global pandemic has shifted the realities of our daily lives, and our conversations now naturally turn to topics beyond eye care and healthy vision. While global media rightly focus on more immediate topics in the here and now, at the Vision Impact Institute, we remain committed – beyond this pandemic – to a world that continues to experience poor vision at a rate of 1 in 3 people.

How we live and engage through social distancing and self-quarantining have created a new normal around the globe, with some of the greatest disruptions occurring in our homes. According to UNESCO, more than 185 countries have implemented nationwide closures, affecting over 90% of the world’s student population. Several other countries have implemented localized school closures, and, should these closures become nationwide, millions more learners will experience education disruptions. Additionally, many countries have elected to continue learning through online channels and other distance-learning tools.

Throughout these challenging days, we have explored ways we could best use research and existing partnerships to create healthy vision awareness and equip parents experiencing this new normal. In collaboration with The Cooper Institute and Essilor, we are sharing with parents, educators and media some research-backed tips and insights to incorporate into children’s daily activities, whether they are learning online or simply spending more time at home. By implementing at least one or two of these tips, a child’s vision health and overall wellbeing could be impacted positively, both now and in the future.

TAKE A BREAK FROM DIGITAL DEVICES OR OTHER NEAR-VISION WORK

Engaging in near-vision work, whether on a screen or in a book, can be taxing on a child’s eyes. The digital learning environment is also different from the classroom, where children have several places to focus their attention and vision. During a normal school day, looking up at a board for a few minutes gives the eyes a break from constant near-focus. At home, intentionally building in eye breaks is critical. Research aligns with this advice.

In fact, a recent research review found that more time spent on near-vision work activities was associated with higher rates of myopia (nearsightedness).

As a simple rule, the American Optometric Association recommends the 20/20/20 rule: Look away from the screen every 20 minutes and focus on an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

ENSURE YOUR CHILD MAINTAINS AN APPROPRIATE DISTANCE FROM SCREENS

When children are at home, lessons take place beyond the standard school desk through a variety of methods. When using various screens, it is important to create an appropriate distance between the child and the screen. Some experts suggest positioning device screens based on the 1/2/10 rule: mobile phones ideally at one foot, desktop devices and laptops at two feet, and roughly 10 feet for TV screens depending on the size of the screen.

Adjusting font sizes on screens will also help reduce eye strain and help a child maintain an appropriate distance.

DESIGNATE A “SLEEP TIME” FOR SCREENS

Most experts recommend that between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. is a good time to turn off all screens. “Blue light exposure can alter sleep-wake patterns, and exposure to screens late in the evening can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Ryan Parker, OD and Director, Professional Development, North America, Essilor.

“Good sleep is also essential for our immune system.”

ENCOURAGE MOVEMENT

The Cooper Institute asserts that incorporating physical activity during a child’s day is beneficial for whole-child health. This is especially important when children don’t have access to regular physical activity like they do at school. While the outdoors may be off-limits for many, making the most of the indoors is perfectly fine.  If you do have access to being outside, all the better. Research suggests that outdoor activity is not only helpful for a child’s physical well-being, but it can also slow the progression of myopia in children.

Breaking up the day into school time and playtime can help keep children on a schedule. Dr. Millicent Knight, Senior Vice President, Customer Development Group, Essilor, agrees: “I would recommend keeping kids on a schedule that allows for both concentrated work time and playtime. It helps when children know what is expected of them and can [help them] use their time wisely.”

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While we experience a plethora of challenges right now, we still know that the healthy, active students of today will become the healthy, active workers and leaders of tomorrow. Creating a healthier future workforce, by improving our children’s fitness and vision today, is paramount to keeping productivity up and health care costs down for tomorrow.

Let’s continue to champion healthy vision and its critical role in overall wellness as we move ahead toward healing in our world.

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