Purpose: To assess the prevalence of refractive errors and vision impairment in school-age children in Shunyi District, northeast of Beijing, the Peoples Republic of China.
Methods: Random selection of village-based clusters was used to identify a sample of children 5 to 15 years of age. Resident registration books were used to enumerate eligible children in the selected villages and identify their current school. Ophthalmic examinations were conducted in 132 schools on children from 29 clusters during May 1988 to July 1998, including visual acuity measurements, cycloplegic retinoscopy, cycloplegic autorefraction, ocular motility evaluation, and examination of the external eye, anterior segment, media, and fundus. Independent replicate measurements of all children with reduced vision and a sample of those with normal vision were done for quality assurance monitoring in three schools.
Results: A total of 6,134 children from 4,338 households were enumerated, and 5,884 children (95.9%) were examined. The prevalence of uncorrected, presenting, and best visual acuity 0.5 (20/40) or worse in at least one eye was 12.8%, 10.9%, and 1.8%, respectively; 0.4% had best visual acuity 0.5 or worse in both eyes. Refractive error was the cause in 89.5% of the 1,236 eyes with reduced vision, amblyopia in 5%, other causes in 1.5%, with unexplained causes in the remaining 4%. Myopia -0.5 diopter or less in either eye was essentially absent in 5-year-old children, but increased to 36.7% in males and 55.0% in females by age 15. Over this same age range, hyperopia 2 diopters or greater decreased from 8.8% in males and 19.6% in females to less than 2% in both. Females had a significantly higher risk of both myopia and hyperopia.
Conclusions: Reduced vision because of myopia is an important public health problem in school-age children in Shunyi District. More than 9% of children could benefit from prescription glasses. Further studies are needed to determine whether the upward trend in the prevalence of myopia continues far beyond age 15 and whether the development of myopia is changing for more recent birth cohorts.