Don't turn a blind eye to nearsightedness in kids

Don't turn a blind eye to nearsightedness in kids
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We’ve all heard of peanut allergies — a problem that was hardly existent when we were kids, but now is everywhere, with various warnings
and awareness campaigns to make sure our kids stay safe.

Because allergic reactions to peanuts may be life threatening, it garners massive attention from the medical community, parents, educators, lawmakers and the media.

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But there is another medical problem for our children, growing every year but getting much less attention: myopia, or nearsightedness. It is a condition that allows people to see things clearly close-up, but view objects at a distance as blurry.

 

Myopia is what happens when the eyeball grows too long from front to back. Unlike peanut allergies, where the cause is unknown, it is believed by scientists that myopia in children is exacerbated by kids not spending enough time outdoors.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes for Health (NIH), myopia is a growing problem for both adults and children, likely to get worse in the coming decades.

Now, nearly half of Americans are nearsighted, up from 25 percent in 1971. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health: 4 percent of young children and 9 percent of older children (ages 5 to 17 years) have myopia, or nearsightedness in the United States.

It’s worse overseas; in East and Southeast Asia, the prevalence of myopia has now reached 80 to 90 percent among children. Projections suggest that almost 50 percent of the world will be myopic by 2050.

Even more concerning is the increasing frequency of high myopia in children, which increases the risk detached retinas, early development of cataracts and glaucoma — the leading causes of blindness.

Despite the prevalence of myopia in our country, and rising rates of myopia in children, we still lack sufficient medical care. Treatment options range from eyeglasses to surgery — but there is no pharmaceutical option available on the market. Eyenovia, a drug company in my home state of New York, is on the verge of producing a treatment for myopia, using the same technology found in laser printers to deliver a microdose of a drug called atropine to treat myopia. This breakthrough is crucial, because other drug companies lack the precise eye droppers needed to deliver the exact right amount of the drug.

More needs to be done by governments around the globe to confront this serious healthcare concern for our children. As a former member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I saw firsthand how legislative action was used to raise awareness and action surrounding health care concerns — including for peanut allergies. But a search of the word “myopia” through a congressional legislative database turns up zero results. For perspective, a search for the word “cancer” returns 231 results.

One thing can reduce myopia in children: time spent outdoors. But we lack a national effort by the government to educate parents about the importance of making their kids be outside to help reduce the impact of near-sightedness.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports that the annual direct cost of correcting distance vision impairment is between $3.9 and $7.2 billion in the United States alone.

With such high costs, in terms of wellness, quality of life and taxpayer dollars, Congress and the Administration should take this matter more seriously. It is my sincere hope that we all stop turning a blind-eye to this growing problem and start better protecting the eyesight of our children.

Former Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) is a senior advisor at Gray Global Advisors. Gray Global Advisors represent several industries including health care. Towns served on Capitol Hill from 1983 – 2013, as a senior member of both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.