Why a Generation in China is Coming of Age with Short-Sightedness
The thought of an epidemic, especially at the moment, conjures up images of coughing, sneezing, hand sanitizer, and face masks — squinting and glasses don’t immediately jump to mind.
Yet myopia — the medical term for “short-sightedness” — is said to have reached epidemic proportions worldwide.
And due to a number of factors, the rate of myopia in East Asian countries is disproportionately high. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a bulletin in April 2020 stating that East Asian countries had the highest rates of myopia worldwide, with 75% of the adult population in the region affected.
Glasses wearer Brian Zhang, 28, first realized that he needed them in eighth grade after he couldn’t see the classroom blackboard clearly. “I think I was among the first students to wear glasses in my cohort,” he says. “In my generation, usually students would start needing glasses in middle school.”
Today, he says, it’s a different story. “One of my nephews is already wearing glasses at the age of eight, [and] my niece has also started to wear glasses in elementary school,” Zhang observes. “Myopia in China is definitely skewing younger.”
China has one of the highest childhood myopia rates in the world — over half of the population of minors in 2018, according to official statistics. And rates alarmingly seem to be on the rise — especially amongst students. In 2014, an estimated 80% of secondary school students were nearsighted. In 2018, an official survey also found that 72% of children aged between 12-14 had myopia, in comparison to 58% in 2010.
The skyrocketing cases amongst school children led to President Xi making a statement in 2018, calling myopia “a major issue related to the future of the country, that we must attach great importance to and not allow to develop.”
Myopia is one of the leading causes of visual impairment worldwide, and though it’s corrected easily with a pair of eyeglasses, it can potentially develop into more serious conditions if left untreated. More commonly, it can run rampant, costing hundreds of billions of dollars to an economy in productivity and, in many cases, the opportunities that people can pursue, especially in developing regions of China.
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