Over the years, we’ve heard from many happy site users and customers about the joys and benefits that come with rural land ownership. Now we’ve got a new one for you – a positive relationship between a rural lifestyle during childhood and adult visual acuity. Simply put, children who live in rural areas have better vision and experience significantly lower rates of nearsightedness than their urban counterparts. In fact, they are much healthier overall.
In the early 1970’s, about 25% of Americans were nearsighted. Today, nearly 43% of Americans need glasses or contact lenses for nearsightedness. Similar figures hold true around the world – but only in more developed countries. It’s fairly common knowledge that nearsightedness is hereditary. But what accounts for the marked increase in nearsightedness in developed countries? It turns out that genetics is only partly to blame. New scientific data suggest an entirely different culprit – sunlight. Or, to be more precise, the lack of it.
It seems that since the late 1970’s or so, we spend increasing amounts of time indoors under artificial lighting. Early in human history, our eyes evolved in the presence of sunlight. This seems logical, because we used to be hunters and gatherers who spent time almost exclusively outside, there being no real alternative at the time unless one happened to have a predator-free cave handy nearby. Now that most of us spend only a tiny fraction of our lives outside, it seems that we have lost something crucial to the normal development of vision. The mechanics are pretty straightforward: bright outdoor light helps maintain the correct distance between the retina and the lens in a child’s eye as it develops. When this distance is too great, as in children who have spent a lot of time indoors, nearsightedness results.
Clearly, it’s the amount of time spent outdoors that matters, and studies from around the world have shown that rural children spend more time outside than urban children. Sadly, the barriers to outdoor activity for urban children can be formidable and numerous, with lack of adequate outdoor play areas and parents’ fears of crime being the top two. Meanwhile, rural children have much freer access to the outdoors, and with much lower crime rates in rural areas, parents are more likely to let them enjoy it for longer periods of time. This is not to mention the fact that many children who live in rural areas, especially those that are largely agricultural, don’t have a choice but to be outside. After all, that’s where the chores are.
Still not convinced that rural living and being outdoors are good not only for for kids’ eyesight, but for their overall health and well-being? Other studies have shown that rural children around the world, from mainland China to England to the good old U.S. of A., have better vision than their urban counterparts. More time spent outdoors, due to sunlight or whatever else, means that kids can see better. Also, they are more physically active overall, have healthier vitamin D levels and cardiovascular systems, do not tend to be as obese as indoor children, and eat less junk food.
So, chalk up one more for the benefits of land ownership and a rural lifestyle. It’s clear that time spent outdoors translates to better vision (in children and adolescents, anyway) and an overall healthier lifestyle. And what a perfect reason to tell the children to shut down the video game console and go play outdoors – or to pack up the camping or hunting equipment for a weekend family outing! They’ll thank you later for their excellent vision, and you’ll thank yourself for saving thousands of dollars that otherwise would have gone straight to the optometrist.
For more information on the benefits of the outdoors for children, see this report from ChildrenAndNature.org