Eye study looks at lifestyle

17/02/2016 - 05:54

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The Lions Eye Institute is developing a study aimed at ameliorating high rates of short sightedness among Asians, while at the same time attracting more overseas students to Western Australia’s universities.

Eye study looks at lifestyle
CLEAR FOCUS: David Mackey is seeking support for a new trial on myopia. Photo: Chris Barry

The Lions Eye Institute is developing a study aimed at ameliorating high rates of short sightedness among Asians, while at the same time attracting more overseas students to Western Australia’s universities.

Lions Eye Institute managing director David Mackey told Business News the institute was seeking support and funding from the local Chinese business community to undertake its research into myopia, a condition that affects up to 90 per cent of Asian teenagers.

The condition, which makes objects near to a person look blurry, can be corrected with glasses or contacts, but also increases the risk of retinal detachment, cataracts, glaucoma and blindness.

Myopia is also a heritable trait that is more pronounced in Chinese communities. However, evidence is emerging that behaviours such as spending too much time indoors and intense periods of study can also exacerbate the condition, which has led Professor Mackey to devise a unique trial.

Early studies have shown while 95 per cent of Chinese medical students who did a winter school class in WA were myopic, only 45 per cent of WA-born Chinese students and 20 per cent of WA-born Caucasian students had the condition.

Professor Mackey is now setting out to test how closely the discrepancy is related to environmental conditions, in part by comparing how much time people spend outside.

His study, which aims to find the optimal amount of outdoor activity, will also look at participation in different types of sports and the effect this may have on eyesight. Surfing, for example, doesn’t typically involve wearing sunglasses, while cricket can be played using protective eyewear.

The reason for the distinction is related to the dangers of spending too much time in the sun.

“It really shows the dilemma that we have. If you spend more time outdoors you’ll be less short-sighted, but you increase the risk of skin cancer,” Professor Mackey said.

With about 25,000 Chinese people studying in Australia each year, the Perth study is also seeking to potentially capitalise on what could be a growing demand for sunny environments with good air quality conducive to reducing rates of myopia.

“It we can show that students who come here and study in Australia and get a degree here end up being less short sighted, this may be something that we use as a marketing push in Western Australia to encourage Chinese families to send their kids to study here,” Professor Mackey said.

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