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    High myopia: Global pandemic with genetic and environmental causes

    Singapore—The manner in which myopia works has been a mystery until recently when investigators began making inroads into how the disease progresses. This knowledge likely is going to result in lifestyle changes, said Jodhbir Mehta, MBBS, PhD.

    “Myopia is the most frequent cause of distance impairment in the world and it is creating an alarming global [pandemic] with deleterious ramifications for the quality of life and economic health of individuals and nations as a whole,” said Dr. Mehta,, associate professor, Singapore National Eye Centre, and head of Corneal and External Eye Disease Department.

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    The data are alarming, with almost 22% of the current world population affected. This translates to about 1.5 billion people.

    In light of this, Dr. Mehta’s perspective on the disease has changed over time, that is, from his view when he practiced in the United Kingdom that the average degree of myopia of about -3.0 D could be managed with a refractive procedure to recognition of the fact that the average level in Singapore is now -6.0 D. A startling statistic is that almost 80% of the 18-year-olds who enlist in the army in Singapore are myopic.

    “My current thinking is that the prevalence of myopia is rising dramatically, i.e., to 60% to 70% in many East Asian countries and 25% to 40% in Western countries,” he said. “It is more concerning that pathological high myopia exceeding -6.0 D ranges from 6.8% to 38% in Asia.”

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    Myopia has doubled in the United States in the past 30 years and the prevalence of myopia over -8.0 diopters has increased eightfold, he added.

    “In China, 75% of people in the 15- to-24-year age range have myopia and 10% have over -6.0 D,” Dr.Mehta said.

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