New research from the Specsavers Children’s Vision Report has found that almost half of Australian parents (46%) are failing to take their children to have their first eye test by the time they are eight, as recommended by optometrists. And alarmingly, almost a third (31%) have never taken their child for an eye test - this represents almost 1.5 million children.

The national survey, conducted by Galaxy Research, also confirmed that children are spending so many hours on electronic devices there is little time to play outdoors, which is essential for children’s eye health development. The research found that the average child spends more than 30 hours a week indoors on electronic devices. Primary school age children are spending around 24 hours a week on these devices, while this increases to over 40 hours among teenagers.

Parenting and Psychology expert, Dr Justin Coulson, commented:

"It’s concerning that so few Australian children are getting their eyes tested. This is even more of a worry as our kids are spending more time using technology like PCs, tablets and smartphones instead of playing outside, which is beneficial for their young eyes."

Outdoor play has been strongly linked to improving children’s vision. There is evidence from a number of studies  that longer periods spent outdoors when young, can mean better eyesight in later life, in particular for conditions such as short-sightedness. For example, it has been found that for each additional hour children spent outdoors per week, a child’s risk of being short-sighted dropped by approximately two percent.

Dr Coulson is also concerned about the psychological impact that undiagnosed eye conditions can have on children.

"Parents should not underestimate the importance of getting their child’s eyesight tested professionally. Undetected sight problems can lead to poor self-esteem and confidence issues in the classroom, playground and on sporting fields. A child might, wrongly, feel inferior because of something out of their control and this can be associated with children acting out. I’d urge Australian parents to take their children for an eye test, regardless of visible symptoms," says Dr Coulson.

As the new school term gets underway, Specsavers Optometrist and Director of Professional Services, Peter Larsen, is calling on parents and teachers to get an eye test on their back to school check list.

"I recommend that all children should have an eye test every two years, especially before the age of eight. The message is ‘after eight is too late’, as after this milestone has passed it can be too late to prevent some long-term eye conditions, such as a squint or a lazy eye."

As an optometrist I find the number of Australian children going without an eye test alarming. It’s also surprising as at Specsavers, we provide Australians with free eye tests every two years, at no out of pocket cost to the consumer. Make sure the first stop on your back to school list is an eye test,” says Mr Larsen.

Survey Methodology

*The study was conducted by Galaxy Research in September 2014 among a nationally representative sample of 1,008 Australians aged 18-64. The research was commissioned by Specsavers.

1.Time outdoors and physical activity as predictors of incident myopia in childhood: A prospective cohort study by Jeremy Guggenheim et al, published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (IOVS), doi:10.1167/iovs.11-9091. Available here.

2.The Association between Time Spent Outdoors and Myopia in Children and Adolescents by Serwin et al, published by Ophthalmology 12 Oct;119(10):2141-51. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2012.04.020. Epub 2012 Jul 17. Available here.