Study: Nearly 5 Billion People Will Be Nearsighted by 2050

February 18, 2016 Updated: February 20, 2016

Nearly half of the world’s projected population, or an estimated 5 billion people, will likely be short-sighted by 2050, a new study found.

The study, which was published in the medical journal Opthalmology, analyzed the existing research on nearsightedness since 1995. Based on existing trends, the authors estimate that the rate of myopia will rise from 23 percent today to 49 percent by 2050.

The projections, using data from the United Nations, were calculated by looking at the pace at which different countries were experiencing development and urbanization, which is accompanied by lifestyle changes resulting in people spending less time outdoors, a risk factor for nearsightedness.

It also looked at other environmental factors, such as the use of electronics, and high-pressure education systems such as those found in East Asian countries.

The level of high myopia in Asian countries is considerably higher.

“The level of high myopia in Asian countries is considerably higher,” the authors wrote. “In the study of college freshmen in Taiwan…high myopia increased from 26 percent of all myopia in 1988 to 40 percent of myopia in 2005.”

The number of people with severe nearsightedness, also known as “high myopia,” is expected to increase at an even faster pace, from 2.7 percent of of the world’s population to 9.8 percent in 2050.

In the United States, the rate of myopia has risen by 66 percent since 1970, a study by the National Eye Institute found, according to the Boston Globe.

If these numbers are correct, planning for the expansion of eye care services is needed. One estimate put the cost of corrected vision problems at $202 billion in the United States per year, and high myopia is a risk factor for more severe afflictions like cataract, glaucoma, retinal detachment.