The study, entitled The Northern Ireland Childhood Errors of Refraction (NICER) study, was conducted by researchers at Ulster University and published in PLOS ONE journal. It was the largest longitudinal research undertaken in the UK to examine changes in children’s vision and cycloplegic refractive error over time. The latest findings, using data gathered from more than 1,000 children over six years, provides vital information on how children’s eyes grow and change in the 21st century.

The study has found that nearly one in five teenagers in the Northern Irish population  are now myopic (short-sighted), and that children who have one parent with myopia are at least three times more likely to be myopic than those without a myopic parent. This increases to over seven times more likely when both parents are myopes. It has also shown that myopia is most likely to occur between the ages of six and 13 years.

There are many other interesting findings listed below:

  • Nearly one in five teenagers in Northern Ireland are myopic.
  • Myopia is more than twice as prevalent among children in Northern Ireland now, than in the 1960’s (16.4% vs 7.2%).
  • Myopia is most likely to occur between six and 13 years of age.

Researchers in other countries have shown that spending time outdoors protects against the onset and progression of myopia, to date the NICER results do not support this but it is something they will continue to investigate.

So what do these results mean? From a research perspective, it gives a clearer picture of how children’s eyes are developing and it will help optometrists give advice to parents.

In some areas, children will have vision screening in their first year of school, aged four to five. If this doesn’t happen in your area, or if you have concerns about your child’s eyes (whatever their age), take them to your optometrist for a sight test. The College has developed a video which shows what happens during a visit to an optometrist through the eyes of a child, so you might like to show this to your child before their visit.



An eye examination is a simple process and doesn’t take long but it could have a significant impact on your child’s vision. It’s important to know that children do not have to be able to read to have a sight test. The College has produced an infographic called ‘A short guide to your child’s eyes’ which explains the development of the eye, and can be found below.


A short guide to your child's eyes (click to view full version)