BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - China's government has resorted to the age-old practices of traditional medicine to help millions of schoolchildren nationwide cope with a very modern problem: poor eyesight due to too much studying.
Eye strengthening exercises have been common practice in Chinese schools for decades, but according to recent tests, just one in 10 Beijing schoolchildren has good eyesight, down from almost one in three in 2005.
Education officials, concerned about the deterioration, recently introduced a new series of exercises that focus on pressure points around the head, including the back of the neck and the ears, a technique used in traditional Chinese medicine.
"It is a combination of massage and applying pressure to pressure points, a mixture of sport and medicine, all merged together," said Dr Shao, a medic at a Beijing primary school.
Eye problems in children have been blamed on too much studying in an over-competitive school system.
Statistics have shown that the eyesight of students noticeably degenerates as they progress through school, where they have to squint at Chinese characters and scientific formulae, often in dimly lit libraries.
Around a third of primary school children had poor eyesight while over 80 percent of university students were afflicted, state news agency Xinhua said, citing experts as saying that excessive strain on eyes, not genetic inheritance, accounted for 45 percent of the problem nationwide.
And China's army recently lowered its eyesight requirements as part of a drive to recruit more college graduates, who are also known for their bad eyes, the agency added.
Twice a day, students break off from their studies to perform the exercises. Many pupils, and teachers, support the initiative.
"It's great. My eyesight was weaker before but now it's better," said 10-year-old Wen Lishen.
But not everyone is convinced.
According to Li Xipu, founder of Beijing's Sekwa Eye Hospital, children suffering from myopia, or nearsightedness, should receive mainstream medical treatment, and not rely on traditional therapy alone.
"We practiced traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, or thousands of years... but we still do not have evidence to show the traditional Chinese medicine method is helpful for the prevention of myopia," he said.
"Students have to spend less time in the classroom, in reading, and spend more time outdoors."
Editing by Miral Fahmy