Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Reading and Visual Health

by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern

Reading, which is fundamental to education and plays an important part of our society, can “also compromise our visual health,” according to researchers from the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry. “Children and adolescents spend many hours reading at a developmental stage when their eyes are adjusting their growth based on visual input.” While this benefits cognitive development, extensive reading at this stage can have a significant impact on eye health. In a new paper to be published in the Journal of Vision, researchers have demonstrated how reading can increase the risk of developing myopia, also known as nearsightedness. This effect has been understood for some time, but the mechanism behind this relationship has largely remained a mystery. In studies funded by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, more information has emerged. Researchers compared the visuomotor activity (the coordination of movement and visual perception by the brain) of participants while they completed two visual tasks – reading and walking – using the results to explain the effect reading has on myopia progression. It’s suggested that a person’s eyes require certain visual environments during childhood and adolescence to grow properly, functioning as a sort of “visual diet.” This diet needs to include high degrees of diversity in contrast (or the difference between color or shade), visual motion, and visual change. Reading as an activity lacks many of these qualities compared to walking, exhibiting little variation in contrast and lacking visual motion, with a potential negative effect on the growth of the eye if done excessively. This would lead to the refractive error of myopia, which has also been associated with serious eye conditions, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment. Therefore, long, sustained periods of reading during development could possibly have a negative impact on eye health. The study suggests that reading, while essential for cognitive development, should be balanced with other activities, such as walking, which more effectively activate visuomotor pathways related to proper eye growth. To learn more about these results, read the press releases on reading and visual health from SUNY College of Optometry and the National Eye Institute.