AOA to Host Emergency Children's Vision Summit on March 24 With Goal of Raising Alarm About Children's Eye Health

NEW YORK—The American Optometric Association (AOA) will host an Emergency Children's Vision Summit, a virtual event, on March 24 at 8:30 p.m. ET, with the goal of raising the alarm about children's eye health. The AOA said the event will provide the opportunity for doctors of optometry to learn from experts on children’s eyecare as they assess the crisis and chart a course forward. The AOA members-only virtual event launches an ongoing conversation, led by the AOA, on children’s eye health and vision care.

Doctors, optometry students and paraoptometrics are invited to attend. Over two panels, experts on children’s eye health and vision care will assess and chart a course forward.

The AOA cites several recent polls which are saying what doctors of optometry are seeing—a deleterious rise in the prevalence of myopia, digital eye strain and other conditions in children brought on by pandemic-inspired screen time. According to a national C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital poll, parents were asked what their top concerns were for their children during the pandemic. The No. 1 response: overuse of social media/screen time was named by 72 percent of parents polled.

Children’s eye health and vision care are a significant public health concern,” said AOA president William T. Reynolds, OD, who will open the summit. “With rates of myopia on the rise, accelerated by the pandemic, doctors of optometry are uniquely positioned to take the lead in developing action steps to respond to this burgeoning crisis. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to optimizing young people’s eye health and vision and can prevent future vision loss.

"Unchecked, these eye and vision problems can lead to difficulties in a child’s school performance, social interactions and self-esteem. Eye and vision problems in childhood can manifest into adulthood, impacting adults’ educational achievement, employment opportunities and social interactions.”

“As a consequence of the pandemic, children have been spending less time outside and more time than ever in front of screens doing schoolwork and at play,” noted Terri A. Gossard, OD, MS, one of the summit’s panelists and member of the AOA’s board of trustees.

“This is doubly concerning—time spent outside has been proven to reduce myopia progression in children and increased screen time can lead to visual strain and discomfort. The process of obtaining eyecare was initially complicated by recommendations to delay eye examinations,” added Dr. Gossard, one of the founders of an eyecare center for children at Oyler School in Ohio. “Parents may be unaware that doctors of optometry are more than ready to provide this valued health care service following established safety protocols.”

"Doctors are uniquely qualified to lead the conversation on children’s eyecare and vision health and educate parents, policymakers and educators among others on the subject, stated summit panelist Jennifer Zolman, OD, chair of the AOA's InfantSEE and Children’s Vision Committee.

Lori L. Grover, OD, Ph.D. is another panelist, AOA board member and a member of the Evidence-Based Optometry Guideline Development Group that produced AOA’s clinical practice guideline on pediatric eye and vision examination. She said, “Doctors of optometry continue to lead the nation in gaining recognition of the value of evidence-based, comprehensive eye examination for improving population health outcomes and health equity in children."

Registration details for the virtual March 24 AOA Children's Vision Summit are posted here. The AOA said it also plans to host a second event, a School Readiness Summit, in July.