Rise in child eye problems blamed on heavy computer use

Tim Ewart

Former Royal Editor

Credit: ITV News

The education system in Singapore has just been declared the best in the world by OECD.

It's high praise for the country's students as much as its teachers - but success has come at a price.

Children in this affluent, high-achieving society are expected to work hard. Very hard indeed.

It's not uncommon for them to do five hours of homework every day, and that includes weekends.

Their eyesight suffers and myopia in Singapore has, according to the experts, reached epidemic proportions.

There are significant genetic factors at play. Eyesight problems are common across south-east Asia.

But there is no doubt that the pressure the children of Singapore find themselves under plays a big part.

Most young Singaporeans wear glasses or contact lenses. Credit: ITV News

The facts are pretty stark. At primary school age, 20 per cent of Singaporean children are classified as myopic.

By the time they finish their education, that figure has leapt to 70 per cent.

The majority of young adults in Singapore wear glasses or contact lenses.

Myopia is exacerbated by excessive close reading, the use of screens on smart phones, tablets and computers and, perhaps most importantly, lack of exposure to daylight.

In simple terms, kids in Singapore spend too much time glued to their screens and not enough outdoors.

One study found that the average time spent outside by a child in Singapore in barely two hours a week. In Sydney, Australia, it's 12.

Children in Singapore spend barely two hours outside a week. Credit: ITV News

A group of university students, all myopic themselves, set up an action group called SEEK to tempt more youngsters out into the fresh air.

We found them in one of Singapore's parks. There was a good turnout, but as the group's leader Joshua Conceicao told me, it's hard work.

"Most parents say they simply don't have time," he said.

And as the children played, many of the adults sat on the grass with their tablets and smart phones, barely bothering to look up.

On that Saturday, I met 10-year-old Max and his cousins Lisa and Isabelle, who were not in the park. They were at home pressing on with another five hours of homework.

"Can you see me when you take your glasses off?" I asked Max. "You're a blur," he said.

Watch the full report tonight on ITV at 10.45pm.