There’s a Scientific Reason That Explains Why Nerds Have Bad Eyesight

The longer you spend in education, the worse it might be for your eyes, new study says

There may be a scientific reason that nerds wear glasses: All that book learning has made their eyesight worse than their jock counterparts.

New research led by scientists at Cardiff University and the University of Bristol found that people who spend more time in education are more likely to develop short-sightedness — which occurs when distant objects are blurred. Specifically, researchers found that for every year a person spends in education — where they are likely to spend more time reading and typing on computers — there is a rise in myopic refractive error of 0.27 diopters, a diopter being a standard measure of the optical power of a lens. An estimated 68,000 participants were examined using the "Mendelian randomization" (MR), approach which is often used to examine causal effect of a disease in observational studies.

“This study provides new evidence suggesting that education is a causal risk factor for myopia,” said Professor Jez Guggenheim from Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, who co-led the research. “With the rapid rise in the global prevalence of myopia and its vision-threatening complications, together with the economic burden of visual loss, the findings of this study have important implications for educational practices.”

Guggenheim added that this research should be taken into consideration regarding children’s health around the world.

“Until the link between education and myopia is better understood, the research team recommend children spend plenty of time outdoors (with appropriate sun protection, including a hat and sunglasses in very sunny conditions),” he added in statement.

The study, entitled “Education and myopia: assessing the direction of causality by mendelian randomisation,” was published in April in the BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

As Wired reported in 2016, since the 1970s there has been a significant global increase in Myopia, such that some have deemed it the "silent epidemic." A National Eye Institute (NEI) study found that nearsightedness increased 66 percent in the United States between the 1970s and the early 2000s.

Many have speculated the rise in myopia could also be linked to an increase in time in front of our screens. A different study led by researchers from the University of Southern California Eye Institute at Keck Medicine of USC, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, found that myopia among American children has more than doubled over the last 50 years.

“While research shows there is a genetic component, the rapid proliferation of myopia in the matter of a few decades among Asians suggests that close-up work and use of mobile devices and screens on a daily basis, combined with a lack of proper lighting or sunlight, may be the real culprit behind these dramatic increases,”  Rohit Varma, MD, MPH and director of the USC Eye Institute, said. “More research is needed to uncover how these environmental or behavioral factors may affect the development or progression of eye disease.”

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Nicole Karlis is a news writer at Salon whose writing has appeared in Marie Claire, the New York Times, the Bold Italic, and other publications. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.