Rates of nearsightedness are rising so quickly around the world that the phrase "myopia epidemic" is being tossed around. Everybody's squinting over their smartphones, laptops, e-readers, and other gizmos so much that tech must be to blame, right? Well, it plays a role, "but not in the way you might think," writes Erin Blakemore at Smithsonian. A growing body of research suggests that computer screens (or the amount of time we spend reading them) aren't the real villains—it's the lack of time spent outdoors in natural light, reports Nature. "We're really trying to give this message now that children need to spend more time outside,” says the head of orthoptics at the University of Technology, Sydney. One leading theory is that the light triggers the release of dopamine in the retina, which in turn provides a natural protection of sorts against the disorder, writes Nature's Elie Dolgin.
Definitive research isn't there yet, but studies in the preliminary phase support the get-outside idea. In Taiwan, for instance, a school that sent kids outside for 80 minutes a day saw 8% of them diagnosed with myopia after a year, compared with 18% at a control school. Whether powerful indoor lights can have the same effect is unclear for now. In the meantime, researchers have begun experimenting with ideas such as classrooms with glass walls. What sounds like a simple remedy may not be so easy to pull off. In Taiwan again, 80% of university students had myopia in 2014, reports the Diplomat. It blames a culture in which overworked parents demand their kids succeed academically and often leave them in the care of nannies, "who will always be tempted to keep the children indoors, silenced with the tablet computer." (Maybe smartphones can actually help?)