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R. P. Werner, T. H. Mader, S. C. Werner; Rural Electrification and Myopia in Residents of Northwest Alaska. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2010;51(13):1693.
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Population-based eye disease surveys of northwest Alaska (Arkell and Lightman) done in the mid-1980s revealed a large increase in myopia that occurred in one generation. Further studies in Nome and southwestern Alaska confirmed this generational shift and found some of the highest rates of myopia recorded. We analyze the time course available to develop myopia in those susceptible and compare it to the spread of electrical lighting that occurred just prior to these studies.
All patients over 55 attending eye clinics in Kotzebue, Alaska were surveyed regarding their experiences in house lighting before and after electrification and when this began to occur. Records of the Kotzebue Electric Association were also reviewed. Data from the original eye survey was analyzed for prevalence of myopia in various age groups.
Survey of elders confirmed that most house lighting was limited to kerosene wick lamps or pressurized gas prior to electrification. Schools initially had power followed by businesses and then homes. The Kotzebue Electric Association began serving customers in 1956, but the surrounding villages took much longer. The process started in the early 1950s and appears to be complete by 1975. By the time of the population-based eye survey done in 1985 approximately 15 years of electrical light exposure had occurred to most residents. Because myopia progression can occur up to about age 25 we would expect the biggest effect on individuals age 40 and below. This is confirmed in the study where the prevalence of myopia tripled between generations from 18% in the 40 to 59 year group to 55.4% in those between 20 and 39.
This perplexing jump in the prevalence of myopia within geographically defined population within one generation argues for a defined cause. With myopia, a causative factor has only a limited time to have an effect on the individual. The population-based study data from 1985 provided a snapshot of those sensitive individuals that were transitioning to myopia at the same time as increasing exposure to electrical light became common. Electrical lighting may play a causative role in inciting an environmental effect in the development of large increases in myopia seen in northwest Alaska.
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