Myopic China calls on students to exercise eyes

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s students should exercise their eyes twice a day to ward off nearsightedness that has reached near-epidemic proportions because of their long hours spent hitting the books, the education ministry has urged.

The latest statistics showed how students’ eyesight markedly degenerates as they forge their way through China’s hyper-competitive education system, squinting at Chinese characters and scientific formulas in often dimly lit libraries.

Just 31.7 percent of primary school students suffered from impaired vision but 82.7 percent of university students were so afflicted, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Excessive strain on eyes, not genetic inheritance, accounted for 45 percent of the total problem, it cited experts as saying.

School heads must ease the academic burden on students and improve facilities so as not to sacrifice their health, the vice minister of education, Chen Xiaoya, said on Friday.

The ministry also recommended that schools organize eye exercise sessions every morning and afternoon.

The ministry’s instructions came as millions of university hopefuls make a start on China’s national college entrance examination, or “gaokao”, on Saturday and Sunday, an extremely demanding test that’s seen as make-or-break for getting ahead.

Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Alex Richardson