All summer long, the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC) has been joining forces with children’s optometrist Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford in a myopia awareness campaign known as a Screen Staycation. Did you know that just 76 extra minutes outside a day can reduce the risk of myopia by 50 percent? That’s why Dr. Nate and GMAC are encouraging families to spend more time outdoors this summer and take a Screen Staycation—a challenge to go 24 hours without any screens. To help families get started with their outdoor activities, GMAC has been offering Screen Staycation kits which include, a Frisbee, a kite, a solar science and art kit, sunscreen, and of course, sunglasses. Weekend caught up with Dr. Nate to talk about how the campaign is going and what’s on the horizon for families dealing with myopia.

Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford.

Question 1: How did the Screen Staycation idea come about?

Pulling inspiration from a recent insight that childhood myopia rates are on the rise due to increased near work activities (i.e., screen time) and less time outdoors, the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC) created the Screen Staycation campaign. The campaign challenges families to take a 24-hour tech timeout and spend time together outside in hopes of lowering the risk of myopia.

I’ve seen the impact of myopia on children firsthand in my practice, so I know raising awareness around this issue is critical. Celebrity mom, Haylie Duff, is also part of the campaign as she has myopia herself and agrees on the importance of implementing changes in her own kids’ activities—after all, the disease is genetic.

Together, Haylie and I are encouraging parents to schedule comprehensive eye exams for their kids before they head back to school and to ask their eye doctor about new myopia treatment options that are now available to help slow down the progression of the disease.

Question 2: How long is the campaign running and how is it doing so far?

Although this campaign is taking place during the summer, eye health is important all of the time, so we are encouraging families to take tech timeouts and play outdoors whenever possible.

So far, we’ve seen a really positive response from parents and consumers who’ve engaged with the campaign content. Many commenters expressed they didn’t know myopia was nearsightedness or that there were new treatments available. Through the influencer content and broadcast and radio interviews, the campaign has garnered more than 18 million impressions, with more to come.

Some of my favorite activities include playing with a Frisbee or a kite (both of these items are part of the free Screen Staycation kit)—games that exercise kids’ near and far vision. Simple activities like going for a walk are also great. But anything that gets children outside, engaged and having fun is a win.

Beyond this campaign, GMAC works year-round through various efforts to raise awareness of myopia and educate parents and caregivers that new treatment options are available to slow its progression.

@brighteyestampa Download the eye doctor discussion guide to help with those #myopia treatment conversations at your child's next appointment. Link in bio. #GMACPartner #ScreenStaycation ♬ Trendy corporate sound ♪ - 3KTrack
Dr. Nate said, “TikTok is an excellent and fun platform to share helpful tips and tricks to promote good eye health. I’ve seen TikTok be a great way to reach audiences outside of my everyday patients. Patients comment on my TikTok videos, and they think it is great.” 
Question 3: Can you give us a brief update on the myopia issue and are there any new treatments out there?

Myopia is a global epidemic with numbers increasing dramatically each year. The disease currently affects around one-third of the world’s population and is predicted to affect half of the world’s population by 2050, with almost 1 billion people at significant lifelong risk of eye disease due to high myopia.

According to a 2021 GMAC survey, only 19 percent of parents took their child(ren) to the optometrist during the pandemic, and only 7 percent took their child(ren) to the ophthalmologist

While there’s no cure for myopia, we’ve never been in a better place with effective treatments that can slow the disease’s progression. Often, parents don’t know about these new treatment options beyond conventional contacts and glasses, so that’s why I recommend they schedule a comprehensive eye exam for their kids as early as possible in order to have those conversations and prevent myopia from progressing.

GMAC and I developed an eye doctor discussion guide together to help parents ask the right questions about myopia management during their child’s next appointment. With this guide, they’ll feel confident heading into those conversations.

Question 4: What kind of an effect did the pandemic have on the progression of myopia?

Research has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased rates of myopia progression, and I’ve personally seen the increase in my practice over the past few years. Quarantining and remote learning have resulted in children spending even more time on screens and less time outdoors, factors we know increase the risk of the disease.

According to a 2020 GMAC survey, 61 percent of parents said their children’s use of video games has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while 44 percent said their children spend four hours or more on electric devices each day—including television, or handheld devices, completing schoolwork on a computer, or playing video games.

Question 5: If you could give parents some advice or tips about myopia, what would that be?

As a parent myself, I know we have a lot to worry about, but it’s important to take action now since the earlier a child is diagnosed with myopia and treated, the greater the protection they have against future vision loss.

Early intervention of myopia is extremely important because children with myopia are at a greater risk for sight-threatening diseases later in life:

  • A child with medium to high myopia is 5x more likely to develop cataracts.

  • Medium to high myopes have a 5x greater chance of developing glaucoma.

  • A mild myope is 21x more likely to develop retinal detachment while a high myope is 44x as likely.

  • Myopes are prone to develop bleeding and tears in the retina which can lead to blindness.
In addition to parents scheduling their children’s annual comprehensive eye exams and having those myopia management conversations early with an eye doctor, I would recommend a few healthy lifestyle changes that they can easily implement as a family: Spend more time outside and adopt the 20/20/20 rule—for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, look away at something else that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds to give your eyes a break.

Parents should also know that 76 extra minutes outside a day can reduce the risk of myopia by 50 percent.