Walter G. Wasser

The Global Epidemic of Myopia and Its Implications

Nearsightedness, medically termed as myopia, is becoming increasingly prevalent worldwide, reaching what many experts consider epidemic levels. This essay explores the phenomenon of myopia, examines its causes, discusses its socio-economic and health impacts, and reviews potential mitigation strategies.

Introduction to Myopia

Myopia is a common visual impairment where individuals experience difficulty seeing distant objects clearly. This condition has shown a significant increase in prevalence over the past few decades. It is projected that by 2050, nearly half of the global population will require corrective lenses due to myopia, a stark increase from 23% in 2000.

Economic Impact

The financial implications of myopia are substantial. In the United States alone, the annual expenditure related to myopia, including corrective lenses, eye tests, and related healthcare services, reaches approximately $7.2 billion. This economic burden is reflective of the growing need for corrective measures to manage myopia, highlighting a significant public health challenge.

Causes of Myopia

The etiology of myopia is multifactorial, involving both genetic and environmental components. Although having myopic parents increases the likelihood of developing myopia, no single gene is responsible. Instead, behavioral factors play a critical role. Research involving infant chickens has provided insights into how visual experiences affect eye development. These studies indicate that distorted visual input can cause the eye to grow abnormally, leading to myopia.

Role of Lifestyle and Environmental Factors

Recent studies emphasize the impact of lifestyle choices on the incidence of myopia. Activities that require focusing on close objects, such as reading or using electronic devices, contribute to the rise in myopia rates. Conversely, spending time outdoors and being exposed to sunlight appears to mitigate this risk. A meta-analysis revealed that each additional hour spent outdoors per week reduces the likelihood of developing myopia by 2%.

Cultural and Educational Influences

The rapid increase in myopia rates is notably prominent in East Asia, coinciding with educational and industrial advancements that encourage indoor activities and intensive reading from a young age. Similar trends are observed in the North American Arctic post-World War II, where enforced schooling correlated with a significant rise in myopia among the Inuit population.

Preventative and Corrective Measures

Addressing myopia effectively involves early detection and corrective interventions, such as prescription glasses or contact lenses. In some regions, regular eye examinations for children are mandatory, aiding in early treatment and prevention of severe myopic complications. Additionally, lifestyle adjustments, such as reducing close-up work and increasing outdoor activities, are advocated to counteract the development of myopia.

Features Unique to Israel

In Israel, the prevalence of myopia presents unique features influenced by demographic and lifestyle factors, particularly among different educational and community settings. Approximately 28.3% of young adults in Israel, typically assessed around the age of military induction, are reported to have myopia​​. This percentage reflects general trends observed through studies of military candidates, which are indicative of the broader young adult population, although it does not necessarily encompass all community segments, such as the ultra-Orthodox.

The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, which follows distinct educational and lifestyle patterns, shows different trends in myopia prevalence. Due to their intensive reading habits from a young age and limited exposure to outdoor activities and technology, there is an increased incidence of myopia. Educational practices in these communities often involve prolonged near work, such as reading small text and limited outdoor time, contributing to higher myopia rates​​.

Interestingly, research suggests that the prevalence of myopia is not only a matter of genetics but is significantly influenced by environmental factors, such as the amount of time spent outdoors. Studies have demonstrated a clear association between increased outdoor activities and lower rates of myopia progression, which is relevant across various global contexts, including Israel​​.


Myopia represents a significant and growing global health concern with deep economic impacts and implications for quality of life. Understanding its causes and effects helps in formulating strategies to manage and possibly reduce its prevalence. Integrating preventive healthcare, educational reforms, and lifestyle modifications could be key in combating this modern epidemic.


  1. Herbert, Andrew. “Nearsightedness is at epidemic levels – and the problem begins in childhood.” The Conversation. Published April 24, 2024. Accessed April 26, 2024.
  2. Zylbermann, R., Landau, D., & Berson, D. (2020). “The relationship between education levels, lifestyle, and religion regarding the prevalence of myopia in Israel.” BMC Ophthalmology.
  3. Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. “Demographic characteristics of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel.” Accessed in 2024.
  4. Zylbermann, R., et al. (Year). “Prevalence of myopia among ultra-Orthodox schools and its correlation to lifestyle and educational practices.” Published in Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.
About the Author
The author is a specialist in nephrology and internal medicine and lives with his wife and family in Jerusalem.
Related Topics
Related Posts