Japan Data

Toward a Blurry Future? Increased Internet Use Contributing to Worse Eyesight Among Youths


Vision among Japanese children and adolescents is deteriorating. The number of students in grades 1–9 with vision falling below the standard 1.0 score is at an all-time high. This trend has raised concerns about the adverse effects of the increased use of the Internet, but with adults also hooked on screen time, a solution seems out of reach.  

The eyesight of children in Japan is deteriorating. Since fiscal 1979, when the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) added the category of eyesight to its surveys of the health of school children, the percentage of children with visual acuity under 1.0 (the decimal measurement used in Japan equivalent to 20/20 vision) has been increasing almost continuously. In fiscal 2017, 32.46% of elementary school children and 56.33% of junior high school students had eyesight under 1.0, setting new records. The percentage of high school students with eyesight under 1.0 peaked in fiscal 2013 and has decreased since then, but it remains high at 62.30%.

Despite this trend, however, only 9.04% of elementary students wear eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct their vision. Those elementary students who use no vision correction despite having eyesight under 0.7 (around 20/30), which is generally thought to require correction, has risen to 13.56%.

In the past, eyeglasses had been seen as a hallmark of the long hours of study put in by the best students, but in recent years concerns are rising that the need for glasses is more the result of the influence of the prevailing use of smartphones and other digital devices.

Serious Screen Time

The Youth Internet Use Environment Study released by the Cabinet Office in fiscal 2017 shows that 82.5% of students in elementary through high school used the Internet, most commonly accessing it via smartphones. Smartphones were used by 95.9% of high schoolers, 58.1% of junior high school students, and 29.9% of elementary school students.

The most common uses of the Internet by school-age children includes playing games, watching videos, listening to music, and communicating with others. An overwhelming 77.9% of elementary-school students used the Internet to play games.

The amount of time spent on the Internet has continued to rise year after year. As of fiscal 2017, the daily average was 214 minutes for high school students, 149 minutes for junior high schoolers, and 97 minutes for elementary school students. But parents and guardians are hardly in a position to caution children for spending too much time online. A study of their own Internet usage found that the daily average among adults in fiscal 2017 was 136 minutes, a 30-minute increase over the figure for fiscal 2014.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

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