The Marmot's Hole Blogger
6/19/2003
 
Myopia in East Asia

Mike over Interested-Participant (archives screwed on Blogspot, as usual) came across some very interesting research which seems to answer why it is that so many Asians wear glasses. According to Glass : A World History, by Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin (University of Chicago Press), the myopia rate for adult Europeans is between 20% and 30%, while the myopia rate for adult Chinese is between 65% and 80% and the one for Japanese is between 70% and 80%. The myopia rate for Koreans, on the other hand, is only between 30% to 35% (a brief survey of the patrons of this PC cafe, however, would suggest a significantly higher rate). The most important factor behind the differing rates appears to be linked to the national scripts. According to Mike:

The authors found that all Chinese and Japanese children start at a very young age learning the language, committing to memory two to three thousand complex characters while practicing writing them in an accurate and artistic manner. It's estimated that these children spend fully half their time in school studying language. The result is severe and continuous eyestrain for many long years. Without exception, all the places that require children to learn and become proficient with Chinese/Japanese characters have high rates of myopia in the population. This includes Singapore, the Malay Peninsula and Taiwan, but, interestingly, not South Korea.
Korean, unlike Chinese and Japanese, uses a phonetic script that is remarkably easy to master (an Indian friend of mine learned it in about two hour of intense study). As a result, Korean kids spend much less time learning how to read and write, and much more of their time ruining their eyesight playing Starcraft (rather than cool games like Empire Earth and CNC Generals). Hence, the relatively low myopia rates.
 
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