Increased screen time during COVID-19 raises concerns over student vision, DH’s student health service provides support


3rd October 2023 – (Hong Kong) The Department of Health (DH) calls upon students to prioritize their vision and encourages them to participate in the annual health assessment service offered by the DH’s Student Health Service (SHS).

Despite the World Health Organisation’s declaration that the COVID-19 epidemic no longer poses a global public health emergency, the health of students in Hong Kong has been impacted by the pandemic.

The SHS conducts visual acuity tests for all primary and secondary school students as part of their annual health assessment at the Student Health Service Centres (SHSCs). Recent data analysis by the SHS reveals a concerning decline in students’ vision in recent years, particularly among lower-grade primary students. While the percentage of Primary One students wearing glasses remained stable at 11% between the 2015/16 and 2019/20 school years, it increased to 15% in 2020/21 and has persisted until 2022/23. Moreover, the overall percentage of primary and secondary school students referred to the SHS’s optometry service has risen from 9.4% in 2018/19 to 16.7% in 2020/21, with a slight decrease to 13.2% in 2022/23.

During the COVID-19 epidemic, students have had reduced engagement in outdoor activities and have spent more time using electronic screen products, resulting in a significant increase in screen time for both primary and secondary students. Questionnaire analysis from the SHSCs indicates that the percentage of primary students spending two hours or more per day on non-school-related internet or electronic screen use on a typical school day has risen from 25.8% in 2015/16 to 32.2% in 2018/19. Furthermore, this figure increased to 50.1% in 2021/22 before slightly declining to 47.3% in 2022/23. Similarly, among secondary students, the percentage increased from 65.0% in 2015/16 to 81.2% in 2021/22, with a mild decrease to 78.1% in 2022/23.

To safeguard their vision while using electronic screen products, the DH advises students to follow these health tips:

  • Ensure proper lighting and reduce screen glare.
  • Maintain an appropriate distance from the screen and adopt a suitable posture.
  • Take regular breaks following the 20-20-20 rule (every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to focus on an object at least 20 feet away).
  • Adhere to the 30-40-50 principle: maintain a reading distance of no less than 50 centimetres for computers, 40 centimetres for tablet personal computers, and 30 centimetres for smartphones.
  • Blink frequently to prevent dry eyes.
  • Undergo regular eye checks and cultivate good viewing habits.

A DH spokesperson emphasizes that the visual acuity test provided by the SHS is a screening measure intended to identify visual acuity problems in students as early as possible. It also helps determine if corrective measures, such as wearing appropriate glasses, have been undertaken. Students who fail the visual acuity test will be referred to optometrists at the DH’s Special Assessment Centre (SAC) for further visual assessment. Parents may also choose to consult private optometrists for assessments and follow-up. Additionally, the SHS provides a stereoscopic vision test for Primary One students attending SHSCs or those visiting for the first time to identify visual problems like amblyopia and squint, which require further attention.

Prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, the SHS conducted visual acuity tests for over 400,000 students annually. The service was temporarily interrupted due to the pandemic, but the SHS plans to resume its annual health assessment service for all primary and secondary grades during the 2023/24 school year.

In addition to vision screenings, students enrolled in the SHS will receive an annual appointment to attend an SHSC, where a range of health services catered to different stages of their development will be provided. These services include physical examinations, screenings for health issues related to growth, nutrition, vision, hearing, scoliosis, psychosocial health, and behaviour, individual counselling, health education, and vaccination. Students identified with health problems will be referred to the SAC, specialist clinics of the Hospital Authority, or other appropriate organizations for in-depth assessments and follow-up.