Being too clever can make you blind – really?

Does being educated lead you to become myopic? This is what recent research seems to be pointing at, and what the NHS website seems to be endorsing. According to a study of nearly 68,000 participants, the research suggests that for every year spent in education, there is a decline of 0.2 dioptres in vision.

We all know the typical stereotypes of kids being brainy and wearing glasses. Everywhere we look this stereotype is being perpetuated. If you look at the character Cuthbert in the Dennis the Menace cartoons, he is the smart one in the class in the class, and like the teacher, one of few who wear glasses. Wearing glasses seems to convey some form of intelligence. Harry Potter wears glasses. The alternative stereotype is the muscular but dumb individual, big on muscles, small on brainpower.

The sample size of nearly 68,000 makes it of worthwhile consideration, unlike some research that (rather pointless) tried to use only a sample size of 20! Believe it or not, there was a piece of research on an important area such as smoking and vaping that published results after a sample size of 20 people were consulted. How is that even feasible? We have seen in the past how sample sizes skew statistics and this is how some manufacturers try to initiate the process of research in their twenty-year monopoly in pioneering new drugs; one can only speculate that this was why that particular research was published.

The research assessed the eye health of individuals are correlated them with the years spent in education. On the face of things, this seems to suggest that the more you study, the more your eyes deteriorate.

The more educated you are aiming to be, the more you have to sacrifice your sight.

Which is absurd.

It is not education that spoils the eyes. If that were the case, then all professors would wear glasses and have worse eyesight than the general population. And no teenagers would have high prescriptions.

The answer – if you can call it that – is what we do with our eyes. If we read in poor lighting conditions, then we put our eyes under strain and develop bad habits. For example, if you read with a overhead lamp and a shadow is cast on your book, or you lie on your back while hoisting a book upwards towards the sky, then you are straining your eyes; and if you spend more years (presumably in education) reading like this then you are going to develop myopia. But if you have good reading habits, then it is not going to hurt you to educate yourself and read, because you will not be doing much harm to your eyes.

But reading itself is not going to harm your eyes per se. We can point to various different activities that strain your eyes, such as watching too much television with faulty lighting, too much glare from scrolling cellphones in the dark, too much playing computer games and not noticing it has got dark … all these things strain your eyes.

In fact, if the researchers went back to the 68,000 people they surveyed, and asked how many people owned a smartphone, they would more or less get a close to 100% response and might as well have concluded that owning a smartphone leads you to developing myopia. It does – only if you focus for too long on it.

Poor vision has many causes – diet, prolonged focus and habit. One of the ways to help your eyes recover is to minimise the time you spend focusing on things close-up, and then to spend time outdoors to focus on things that are far away so that your eyes are not consistently taxed. If you were thinking of taking up piano lessons and then had to focus on reading the notated music, which may be tiny, and under dim conditions difficult, minimise the time you spend on it.

Being educated does not make you myopic – the poor reading habits that individuals have can be exacerbated by the reading demands that the pursuit of higher education requires. It is important to note the difference!