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Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Singaporeans have 'world's worst eyesight'
Close-up reading is hard work for the eyes
Singaporeans have the worst eyesight in the world, a study has found.

Research carried out by Singapore's National Eye centre found a third of young children are short-sighted.

This is nearly twice the level in Taiwan, three times that in Hong Kong, and more than four times higher than in the United States.

Myopia is a huge problem in the Far East - they can't get fighter pilots because they all need glasses

Professor Peng Tee Khaw
Furthermore, the number of short-sighted children is growing.

A local eye expert told the Straits Times newspaper that the problem was caused by genetic and environmental factors, although how exactly this affects eyesight will be determined by another study.

Severe myopia

The study - which looked at 1,005 primary school children - found twice as many seven-year-olds with myopia compared to four years ago.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong with glasses
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong is also bespectacled
Currently about a quarter of seven-year-olds are myopic.

Moreover, some children are also extremely short-sighted. Myopia levels of -6 dioptres, relatively rare in the West, were considered normal in Singapore.

One in five children also suffer from astigmatism.

The Centre is investigating whether short-sightedness can be stemmed or prevented. It is conducting two clinical trials on eye drop solutions to slow down myopia.

Singapore's Defence Medical Research Institute is also studying 120 families with severe myopia to find the genes linked to the problem, the Straits Times said.

Common among Chinese

Chinese appear to be more predisposed to short-sightedness.

Singapore skyline
The country's intensive education system may be a factor
"Myopia is a huge problem in the Far East," said Professor of Ophthalmology Peng Tee Khaw, from London's Moorfields Eye Hospital.

"They can't get fighter pilots because they all need glasses."

Professor Khaw said about 90% of medical students in Singapore wore glasses.

"That gives credence to the theory that excessive reading causes a problem," he said.

He pointed out Singapore had an "incredibly intensive" education system.

"They work jolly hard there," he said.

Professor Khaw said the eye naturally focussed at infinity.

Older person
Eyesight deteriorates among older people
"If you're a hunter-gatherer in primitive times, you need to focus in the distance," he said.

"Normal eyes have to accommodate to read, especially close-up. The muscle has to work very hard.

"As you get older, the eye can no longer do it as well, which why is universally people need reading glasses then."

He added severe myopia was dangerous, causing other medical problems as the retina decays.

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