A new study reveals that nearsightedness in Canadian children is growing at an alarming rate and too much screen time and time spent indoors is the suspected culprit.

The Centre for Ocular Research and Education (CORE), the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry & Vision and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind reveals myopia, or nearsightedness is a global epidemic.

A study of 166 children showed nearly 20 per cent were nearsighted. It was prevalent in six per cent of the children ages six to eight years but five times higher in children ages 11 to 13 years at 28.9 per cent.

"Our children are spending less time outdoors and more time inside on tablets on computers and cell phones,” explained Debbie Jones, Clinical Scientist and member of the research team.

Jones says getting your kids to play outside can actually help prevent myopia.

“There’s also a protective effect of a chemical that’s released when the eyes are exposed to sunlight, that stops the eye from getting longer and when an eye gets longer it becomes near sighted. Prior to becoming myopic, the recommendation is that children should spend time outside and we recommend about 90 minutes a day,” she said.

Once diagnosed, myopia cannot be reversed but it can be slowed or even stopped with proper treatment. That treatment includes proper prescription glasses, drops and even some contact lenses that have been shown to slow and even stop myopia’s progression.

Early diagnosis is vital.

“It has significant consequences, I think, for schooling. It has significant consequences for children and sporting activities,” explained Dr. Kevin Gregory-Evans, a UBC macular research expert.

It’s recommended parents take their child for their first eye exam at the age of six months then again between the ages of two and five and annually between the ages of six and 18 years.