• Vol. 33 No. 1, 21–26
  • 15 January 2004

Evidence for an “Epidemic” of Myopia



Introduction: It has been widely suggested that the prevalence of myopia is growing worldwide, and that the increases observed in East Asia, in particular, are sufficiently severe as to warrant the term “epidemic”. Data in favour of a cohort effect in myopia prevalence are reviewed, with attention to significant shortcomings in the quality of available evidence. Additional factors contributing to myopia prevalence, including near work, genetics and socioeconomic status, are detailed.

Materials and Methods: Medline search of articles regarding myopia prevalence, trends and mechanisms.

Results: Age-related changes in myopia prevalence (increase during childhood, and regression in the fifth and sixth decades) are discussed as an alternative explanation for cross-sectional patterns in myopia prevalence. There have only been a handful of studies that have examined the relative contribution of longitudinal changes in refraction over life and birth cohort differences on age-specific myopia prevalence as measured in cross-sectional studies. Available data suggest that both longitudinal changes and cohort effects may be present, and that their relative contribution may differ in different racial groups.

Conclusions: In view of the relatively weak evidence in favour of a large cohort effect for myopia in East Asia, and the even greater lack of evidence for increased prevalence of secondary ocular pathology, there appears to be inadequate support for large-scale interventions to prevent or delay myopia at the present time.

A number of authors have recently proposed that myopia is increasing at an “epidemic” rate, particularly in East Asia, and especially among populations of Chinese descent. It has been reported that the prevalence of myopia among some populations in this area has reached 90%.

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