November 2016 presentation to the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology and Biotechnology (Chairs: Senator Jim Rosapepe, Delegate Bill Frick)
Documented Health Risks to Children Who Use Computers Daily
by Cindy Eckard (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Increased, irreversible myopia
Because long-term fixed distance viewing is very well known to promote nearsightedness, the pre-teen and teenage developmental precondition for myopia is being exacerbated when middle school kids are required to stare at a computer for excessive periods of time. 10 – 15 year-old children are already prone to myopia; it’s the shape their eyes are taking at this stage in their physical development.
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Myopia is the most common eye problem of the teen years,” says Dr. Harold P. Koller, a pediatric ophthalmologist from Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania, and clinical professor of ophthalmology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “In kids who are genetically programmed to be nearsighted,” he explains, “the eyeball grows too long from front to back, usually during the growth spurt.” https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/eyes/Pages/Myopia-Nearsightedness.aspx
USC researchers working with the National Institute of Health concluded that daily screen time has caused myopia to double among children in the U.S.. African-American and Asian children showed a higher propensity for myopia than did Caucasian children. The lead researcher is a former Wilmer Eye Institute resident.
University of Southern California: “While research shows there is a genetic component, the rapid proliferation of myopia in the matter of a few decades among Asians suggests that closeup 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.” https://news.usc.edu/91007/usc-eye-institute-study-seeks-cures-to-childhood-myopia
The Vision Council: “While adults with computer-oriented jobs seem to be the prime targets of over-exposure to digital devices, one in four children use these devices more than three hours a day. This exposure, which occurs both at school and at play, poses a risk to children’s developing eyes. accelerated myopia, or nearsightedness, is just one potentially troubling byproduct of too much screen time.”
Students are further disadvantaged in middle school, because right when they need recess the most — the one activity that has been proven to mitigate myopia — they are denied any regular outdoor play:
American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Encouraging children to spend more time outdoors may be a simple and cost-effective way to improve their vision as well as general health, according to several recent studies. They add to the growing evidence that spending time outdoors may lower the risk of nearsightedness in children and adolescents. Nearsightedness is more common today in the United States and many other countries than it was in the 1970s.” http://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/time-outdoors-reduces-nearsightedness
All About Vision: “Moderate and high myopia sometimes are associated with serious, vision-threatening side effects” such as cataracts, retinal detachment and glaucoma. http://www.allaboutvision.com/parents/myopia-progression.htm
- Retinal damage and premature macular degeneration
The UV blue light emissions that damage the back of our eyes are better able to penetrate children’s eyes because the kids are not blinking, and because a child’s eye doesn’t have the necessary pigmentation to protect against the blue light. So the child is literally staring into a computer with damaging blue light penetrating right to the back of his eye.
University of Iowa: “As we stare at the computer screen or while reading, our blink rate decreases. We actually blink 66% less while working on the computer. This will cause your eyes to feel dry and to burn.” https://www.uihealthcare.org/2column.aspx?id=225650
WRAL (Raleigh-Durham): Children’s and teen’s eyes are still developing, and the protective pigments in their eyes that is beneficial in filtering some of the harmful blue light has not fully developed yet… Children and young adults who use smart phones and tablets are at risk of potential irreversible eye damage because of blue light emissions from digital devices. Serious problems begin to occur with your eyes when too much exposure to blue light is encountered thru the use of LED Devices. http://www.wral.com/eye-care-center-kids-bluelight/14543845/
Prevent Blindness America: “According to a recent study, children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adults from digital device screens, which is a growing concern as the popularity of cell phones, computers and tablets for school reading and personal use continues to grow each year. Increasing public health data and scientific research describes the eye health effects linked to exposure to digital device light emissions, including Computer Vision Syndrome, eye strain, sleep cycle disruptions and premature retinal damage risk.” http://www.preventblindness.org/childrens-vision-and-electronic-devices
The Washington Post (January 11, 2016) “Computer, iPad and smartphone screens are thought to strain the eyes because they emit blue light or high-energy visible (HEV) light, which reaches far deeper into the eye than other kinds of light and can cause effects that are cumulative.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/01/11/blue-light-from-tech-gadgets-and-digital-eye-strain-more-than-73-percent-of-young-adults-suffer-from-symptoms/
A very good video that explains the physiology of blue light on the eye: http://collettsmart.com/how-much-sleep-do-teenagers-need/
Surgical Specialty Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania: “Continued exposure to blue light can affect the eyes in two ways. First, it may cause eye fatigue. Your eyes may feel dry, irritated and tired after hours of work on the computer or reading emails. This happens to children as well, but it may happen much more rapidly. Children can get headaches from digital eye strain, but it is easy for parents to attribute headaches to other sources. Secondly, blue light is harmful because it is the highest wavelength of visible light. The energy from blue light penetrates all the way to the back of the eye and passes through the eye’s natural filter. Adult eyes have protective pigments that filter some of the harmful wavelengths of blue light, but those pigments are not fully developed in children which leaves them susceptible to eye damage.” http://kingstonsurgerycenter.com/news-article/limit-screen-time-to-protect-your-childs-eyes-04282015
- Digital eye strain and musculoskeletal discomforts
Experts in children’s health are quick to point out that children are not just small adults. When using digital devices, kids are often unaware of the discomfort they are experiencing and do not correct their posture or take a break when their eyes get dry or blurry. They suffer more than adults, and don’t do anything about it.
National Institute of Health: “Children can experience many of the same symptoms related to computer use as adults. However, some unique aspects of how children use computers may make them more susceptible than adults to the development of these problems.” For instance, children don’t self-adjust when they experience eye or muscle strain. They just keep working on the computer: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776336/
OSHA has regulated the use of computers in the workplace since the 1990s (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3092.pdf) when significant environmental health symptoms were first documented: dry eyes, painful and blurry eyes as well as muscle pain in the neck/shoulders were the chief complaints. These symptoms are worse for today’s young children who are required to use a device as much as an office worker does. But kids aren’t self-aware enough to recognize and mitigate their own discomfort. And there are no regulations to protect them.
American Optometric Association: “Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use.” http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/computer-vision-syndrome?sso=y
“Computer Vision Syndrome Threatens Returning Students: (Aug 13, 2007 ) The American Optometric Association (AOA) warned on Aug. 7 that children heading back to school are at risk for developing Computer Vision Syndrome, which leaves them vulnerable to problems like dry eye, eyestrain and fatigue. According to VSP Vision Care, nearly half of U.S. children spend four hours a day or more using computers or other portable electronic devices.” https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2007/08/American-Optometric-Association-Computer-Vision-Syndrome-Threatens-Returning-Students.aspx
Princeton University: “Carpal tunnel syndrome is probably the most widely known repetitive strain injury (RSI), but eyestrain is the most common. If uncorrected, eyestrain can lead to general fatigue, increased myopia (nearsightedness), and a decrease in overall efficiency. Everyone is at risk for eyestrain, especially those who work at a computer for more than three hours a day.” http://uhs.princeton.edu/health-resources/ergonomics-computer-use#eyestrain
The Washington Post (January 11, 2016 ): Blue light from tech gadgets and digital eye strain: More than 73 percent of young adults suffer from symptoms (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/01/11/blue-light-from-tech-gadgets-and-digital-eye-strain-more-than-73-percent-of-young-adults-suffer-from-symptoms/)
The Chicago Tribune (January 6, 2016) Digital eye strain: Symptoms include, in order of prevalence, neck/shoulder/back pain, eye strain, headache, blurred vision and dry eyes. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-digital-eye-strain-0106-biz-20160105-story.html).
- Sleeplessness and its damaging side effects
Because so much work is done on a computer at school, most homework and studying also has to take place on a computer in the evening. This is especially problematic for our kids because the blue light from the digital devices suppresses a hormone called melatonin, which is necessary for sleep. Our kids are now being deprived of sleep because of the schools’ constant reliance on computers, which brings a host of additional serious health risks to our children. Some kids are actually being misdiagnosed with ADHD, when the truth is, they’re just exhausted.
Frontiers in Health: “The role of light and its influence on many aspects of our physiology, behavior and well-being is increasingly well understood (4–6). In particular, the light/dark cycle is critical in synchronizing the circadian (daily) clock to the 24 h day. The hormone melatonin (“the hormone of darkness”) is produced at night, with the duration of secretion mirroring the dark period, and its production is associated with sleep.” http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpubh.2015.00233/full
NIH: “Youth should be advised to limit or reduce screen time exposure, especially before or during bedtime hours to minimize any harmful effects of screen time on sleep and well-being.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4437561/
Harvard University: “Exposure to blue light at night, emitted by electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs, [is] harmful to your health. At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.” http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
The Sleep Foundation: “Children and adults behave differently as a result of sleepiness. Adults usually become sluggish when tired while children tend to overcompensate and speed up. For this reason, sleep deprivation is sometimes confused with ADHD in children. Children may also be moody, emotionally explosive, and/or aggressive as a result of sleepiness. In a study involving 2,463 children aged 6-15, children with sleep problems were more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, and display oppositional behaviors. ” https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/adhd-and-sleep
The Washington Post: Blue light from electronics disturbs sleep, especially for teenagers. Harvard sleep expert Dr. Steve Lockey: “Sleep is important for learning, memory, brain development, health … We’re systematically sleep-depriving kids when their brains are still developing, and you couldn’t design a worse system for learning.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/blue-light-from-electronics-disturbs-sleep-especially-for-teenagers/2014/08/29/3edd2726-27a7-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html
- Increased propensity for psychological issues
The constant use of digital devices is emerging as a psychological problem for many young people whose reliance on virtual experiences is replacing actual interaction with friends and family. Some experts, such as Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, are suggesting that digital devices are not only addictive, but lead to additional problems for young children such as depression, anxiety, pornography use and gambling. UCLA research has shown that children are losing their ability recognize emotional expressions in other people’s faces.
TIME Magazine, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras: “Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.” TIME Magazine, August 13, 2016. http://time.com/4474496/screens-schools-hoax/
UCLA: “UCLA scientists found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices.” http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/in-our-digital-world-are-young-people-losing-the-ability-to-read-emotions