A new widespread disease has arrived: our eyesight is getting worse. In this blog, we repeatedly highlight the increasing rate of media consumption. Everyone should be aware of the associated consequences on our eyesight. According to the World Health Organization, our eyesight will become worse in future due to our changing living and working conditions. 2.2 billion people worldwide currently live with impaired vision or blindness.
However, one billion of these cases could have been avoided or treated according to the 2019 report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) on eye care. Globally, the WHO calculates that it would cost 13 billion euros to treat short-sightedness, long-sightedness and cataracts. Eye care will pose a major challenge for health systems in the next few decades according to the organisation as the number of people affected by blindness and impaired vision will increase.
We are now asking ourselves whether this has something to do with media consumption? The fact is that an increasing number of people worldwide have poor eyesight. Everyone can imagine the situation in 10 to 20 years’ time just by viewing the following figures: 41.1 million adults (aged over 16) in Germany wear glasses, of which 23.4 million wear them permanently and 17.7 million occasionally. As a result, two out of three adults now wear glasses. Over the last five years, above-average growth can be seen in the 20 – 29 age group (plus 4 percentage points) and the 30 – 44 age group (plus 6 percentage points). An ‘eyewear study’ carried out by the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research, which was commissioned by Kuratorium Gutes Sehen (KGS), contributed to these results. Let’s take a look at a few figures that clearly show the emergence of this new disease of civilisation.
Digital visual stress for our eyes
In June 2021, NordVPN surveyed thousands of internet users in Spain, France, and Germany to find out how much time they spend online. The results were shocking:
during a typical week, people in these areas spend just over 51 hours online – that’s more than two days. Over a year, that adds up to 111 days – in Germany on average 24 years, 8 months and 14 days online. Given that the average life expectancy in this country, according to the World Bank, is 80.89 years, this means that we spend on average 24 years, 8 months and 14 days – almost a third of our life – online.
Of these 51 hours per week, more than 20 hours are associated with the workplace. The remaining 31 hours or so are distributed across various online activities. On average, Germans start each day at 9:14 by surfing the net and only switch off again at around 21:24. The survey shows that almost 45% of Germans cannot imagine going a day without browsing the internet. Most of them are even reliant on the internet for their hobbies. Those surveyed also indicated that this dependency causes them to disclose lots of their personal and partially sensitive data.
In Spain, the average internet user spends even more time online, namely 28 years, 9 months and 10 days. According to the World Bank, the average life expectancy in Spain is 83.43 years.
Meanwhile, internet users in France spend 27 years, 7 months and 6 days online, where the average life expectancy is 82.72 years according to the World Bank.
The social media effect: The Spanish spend 6 hours and 1 minute scrolling Facebook and other social media sites. For the French, this is an impressive 6 hours and 39 minutes. Also in terms of streaming, the Spanish and French exceed German users at 8 hours and 4 minutes and 6 hours and 18 minutes respectively.
Overall, it can be said that there are more similarities than differences in all three countries. For activities such as research, video calls, games and more, the highest and lowest national weekly averages all varied by no more than 30 or 40 minutes of each other. Had NordVPN also carried out the survey in Belgium, Holland, Sweden, England or Greece, the results would have been very similar.
The effect of this internet consumption on our eyesight really needs no further explanation. Even our sleep is susceptible to disruption. Many people take their phone or tablet to bed with them and even watch films and series late into the night. The blue light from screen displays also suppresses melatonin production.
According to the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine (DGSM), studies show that 45 percent of 11-to-18 year-olds check their smartphones in bed, and 23 percent check them more than ten times a night. For example, while children spent an average of 79 minutes playing computer games on weekdays in September 2019, this increased to 139 minutes in April of this year.
The advice from eye specialists is to send children to play outside for at least two hours a day. Outside on a sunny day, illuminance can reach around 10,000 lux even in the shade, whereas in enclosed spaces, at home or in classrooms this is often just 500 lux.
New studies show that blue light can permanently damage the eye’s retina. A study by researchers at the University of Toledo revealed that blue light, which is emitted by digital devices such as smartphones, attacks key components of the retina. The blue light can lead to macular degeneration:
The researchers found out that blue light changes the retina and can kill off photoreceptor cells. Eye specialists therefore recommend a distance of around 40 centimetres between the eye and device, which nobody adheres to.
Eye care – the next major challenge
The WHO also believes that working on computers and smartphones significantly contributes to the increase in eye conditions. The rate of short-sightedness is increasing as people spend far more time inside.
Our most important sensory organ, our eyes, are subject to daily stress that can lead to eye conditions. This risk can only be remedied by reducing screen time and use of smartphones, tablets, and computers. Other risk factors for eye disease may include arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, and diabetes. This often begins with a flickering in front of the eyes, which can be a sign of overtiredness and overstressing of the eyes. A healthy lifestyle is therefore important. This includes a healthy diet, as our eyes also need nutrients and vitamins.
Can eyes actually improve? Yes, vision problems can be alleviated through consistent training, which we will focus on in another blog on the topic of eye training.
Stay healthy and look after your eyes.