Young haredim more myopic than modern Orthodox and secular counterparts

"The results of the study indicate the need for cooperation between the health and education systems in formulating strategies to prevent the development of myopia in children."

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June 7, 2018 04:00
2 minute read.
glasses on the background of the stack of magazines

glasses on the background of the stack of magazines. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

 
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It isn’t a myth that ultra-Orthodox (haredi) schoolchildren and high school pupils are more likely to need glasses due to shortsightedness (myopia) than secular and modern Orthodox Jewish children.

Dr. Hagai Levine – an epidemiologist, public health physician and faculty member of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem – presented dramatic differences in the incidence of myopia according to the type of educational institutions. The first study of its kind done in Israel was presented this week at a conference of the Union of Public Health Physicians and of Schools of Public Health.

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The study found dramatic differences in the incidence of myopia among the various types of pupils. “It is almost certain that the requirements of studies in the haredi education system, which require the child to make a great effort to read small print from an early age, contribute to the development of childhood myopia,” he said.

Haredi boys read small fonts in Talmud tomes, and both girls and boys read a lot of Rashi and other commentaries that appear in small letters below the regular text.

The research team looked at records from the IDF draft offices of 22,823 17- and 18-year-olds who were educated in secular, state religious and haredi schools. The highest rate of myopia (82%) was among haredim, followed by 50.3% of modern Orthodox and 29.7% of the secular pupils.

The fact that the participants in the research were candidates for military service is not coincidental, said Levine. The research was done as a thesis by Dr. Dana Bez of the IDF Medical Corps who studied in the Hebrew University’s and the IDF’s joint Tzameret program for medical students.

Levine stated that it is almost certain the requirements of studies in ultra-Orthodox education, which require the student to make a great effort to read small print many hours a day at an early age, contribute to the development of childhood myopia.

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Asked whether the religious practice of shokeling (swaying forward and backward while praying from the prayer book or reading from religious text) – thereby forcing the eyes to constantly change focus – could also be a cause of myopia, Levine said this too was worth studying further.

“The results of the study indicate the need for cooperation between the health and education systems in formulating strategies to prevent the development of myopia in children, especially in populations at risk,” he concluded.

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