Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the dramatic rise in screen time is raising alarms about the impact on eye health for people around the world.
The United States had the highest screen time use with nearly 45 percent more usage than the global median. With more adults and children spending time in front of screens for work, school, and social gatherings, concerns are rising about the long-term impact apart from eye fatigue, dry and irritated eyes, and retinal damage prolonged screen time can cause.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, lockdown measures have meant that excessive screen time has only escalated,” wrote Pablo Martinez, a public relations manager, in an email releasing the Mister Spex Screen Time Index. The index offers figures on the minutes per day spent looking at TV, streaming, video games, and social media.
According to a Harvard research study, macular degeneration, cataracts, eye cancer, myopia, and increased eye-pressure build-up are some of the permanently damaging factors to the eyes.
“Associated with lower physical and mental wellbeing, as well as eye-related issues, this study aims to bring attention to the important topic and how it may be impacting our long-term health,” Martinez wrote.
Residents of Finland had the lowest social media use, averaging about 57 minutes each day.
Ireland residents spent the most time playing video games at 74 minutes per day, followed by Mexico at 73 minutes and the United States at 69 minutes.
“As a basis for this data analysis, we have selected 25 countries from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which collected extensive, comparable data on-screen time in leisure time outside of school and work,” researchers wrote. “The results show how many minutes per capita are spent on average in front of screens outside of work and learning. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, the total time people spend in front of screens will be significantly higher again.”
The data revealed how many minutes per day the average person in these countries spent watching television and streaming services, playing video games, and looking at social media.
Mister Spex collected data to calculate how far each country deviated from the median for leisure screen time.
Phone screen time was also included to explain how much time people in each country spend looking at their smartphones.
John Reichert of Boulder, Colo., told the New York Times that he had a heated argument with his 14-year-old son, James, about screen time.
“I’ve failed you as a father,” he told the boy.
The Times reported that “during the long months of lockdowns and shuttered schools, Reichert, like many parents, overlooked the vastly increasing time that his son was spending on video games and social media.
“Now, James, who used to focus his free time on mountain biking and playing basketball, devotes nearly all of his leisure hours — about 40 a week — to Xbox and his phone.”
He pleaded with his father during their argument not to restrict access, calling his phone his “whole life.”
Reichert, a technical administrator in the local sheriff’s office, remarked that it was the tipping point.
“His whole life?” Reichert questioned.
“I’m not losing my son to this,” he told the newspaper, which noted that when the outbreak hit, many parents relaxed restrictions on screens as a stopgap way to keep frustrated, restless children entertained and engaged.
“But, often, remaining limits have vaporized as computers, tablets and phones became the centerpiece of school and social life, and weeks of stay-at-home rules bled into nearly a year,” the paper reported.
“To ensure that you’re taking the best care of your eyes possible, we would recommend keeping your eyes moist with the conscious use of an appropriate eyedrop frequency,” offered Benny Bendt, an optician with Mister Spex. “Engage in eye relaxation techniques such as palming, and consider blue filter glasses, especially if you have heavy screen time in the evenings.”