Healthy vision in focus: Lockdown measures prolong screen-time during COVID-19
23 Sep 2020 --- Despite the connection between eye health and nutrition, many consumers lack education in this area and risk neglecting their vision. This is especially salient as COVID-19 has increased the amount of time many people spend on their screens as they “cocoon.” NutritionInsight speaks to Kemin, DSM, Lonza and Pharmalinea about how the eye health arena is evolving amid the pandemic.
“There is the saying ‘eyes are the windows to the soul,’ which reflects the relevance of this sense. Keeping vision fully functional and assuring we are doing all we can to preserve it in the future is key for enjoying healthy vision throughout life,” says Miguel Martinho, global strategy and business development manager at Kemin Human Nutrition and Health.
He explains that diet plays a crucial role in eye health across all stages of life to ensure the right nutrients for development, performance and sustained health. Eye health supplements offer a solution to complement diets where key nutrients are missing.
Maja Orešnik, science and research director at PharmaLinea, highlights that at present, at least 2.2 billion people have some form of vision impairment. Nearly half of the vision impairments could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed.
“This is the target group that the nutraceutical industry can aim to help,” she says.
Eye health on the rise
According to Innova Market Insights, global launches with an eye health claim have seen a CAGR of 20 percent between 2017 and 2019. Asia is leading, with 6.9 percent of 2019 launches with an eye health claim being in this region. North America and Europe follow, at 5.3 and 5.1 percent, respectively.
Supplements are the top market category for eye health, accounting for 44 percent of new launches with an eye health claim in 2019. This marks an increase from 37 percent in 2015. In second place for 2019 is the Baby & Toddlers category, at 37 percent. This is a slight dip from its 38 percent market share in 2015.
The top ingredient for this health target is vitamin A, which was featured in 32 percent of launches with an eye health claim in 2019. Closely following were vitamin B9 (27 percent) and vitamin B2 (25 percent). Meanwhile, vitamin E and DHA were seen on 19 and 10 percent of launches, respectively.
The diet-vision connection
Nutrients including certain vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and omegas can all contribute toward better eye health, notes Sandro Sato-Tomita, global product manager of carotenoids at DSM.
He details that many carotenoids – including beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein – are available in foods such as broccoli, green peas and kale, as well as in dietary supplements.
Recent studies have shown that supplementation with an optimal combination of carotenoids can improve visual performance, eye strain and eye fatigue in young adults in a matter of months, flags Orešnik.
This evidence is helping dispel the old belief held by many consumers that nutrition interventions of eye health only works in the long-term and mostly as a protective measure.
The rise of screens
One major threat to modern vision is the prevalence of screens in devices such as smartphones and computers. These pose a threat due to the blue light they emit.
Sato-Tomita explains that excessive exposure to this short and high-energy wavelength can lead to reduced visual contrast and affect the visual sharpness of objects.
According to Stephane Vouche, marketing manager of Lonza Capsules & Health Ingredients, digital lifestyles are the biggest challenge that consumers face today. For many, a typical day involves hours behind computer screens working or engaging in the rapidly growing world of e-sports.
Sato-Tomita continues that over the last decade, the time spent playing video games has also dramatically increased. “Again, this is increasing the amount of time that people are exposed to short waves and high energy waves. The trend will just get stronger in the next few years.”
While the digital boom has already increased screen time for many individuals, the pandemic has exacerbated this trend dramatically. Sato-Tomita observes: “The trend for ‘cocooning,’ especially throughout COVID-19, has exposed people to more time in front of TVs.”
“In the wake of COVID-19, consumer interest in socially distant hobbies such as e-sports and time spent working behind a screen looks set to increase,” adds Vouche.
Seeing the silver lining, Martinho remarks that the pandemic has increased public awareness surrounding eye health. “All of us – either by option or necessity – now spend most of our days using our eyes to look at screens at a short distance.”
Spurring consumers to take action
Vouche also observes that as eyes undergo increasing levels of strains, consumers are more interested in proactively maintaining their eye health than in previous generations.
“This is, in part, due to a desire to support improved eye health later in life, but for many, this is also associated with optimizing overall alertness, mental agility and e-sports performance.”
However, some consumers are reluctant to take immediate action as many eye conditions may be silent or develop across decades, like age-related macular degeneration.
“We are too wired to act upon an immediate danger and not so much on preventive actions and strategies, and this is something Kemin has been working closely across the years,” says Martinho.
The company recently played an active role in a Frost & Sullivan report exploring the economic benefits of adopting preventive actions – like consuming lutein and zeaxanthin supplements – for public eye health.
Bolstering consumer education
Consumer education is crucial, as many people are unaware of how a healthy diet can help improve eye health and safeguard good vision for the years to come. Martinho flags that there is still much to be done in terms of raising awareness.
“There is still a general feeling that our eyes do not need special care and that aid should be searched just when we are sick. Hopefully, things are changing.”
“We see more consumers every day becoming cognizant of the relevance of the diet for overall health, including eye health. They are acting on this by decreasing and controlling risk factors, like smoking,” he states.
However, Vouche observes that the number of consumers who are interested in taking care of their eye health has grown significantly.
“We now see a much more diverse consumer audience, of all ages and genders, who are understanding the importance of supporting eye health over time,” he stresses.
Orešnik adds that as the number of awareness campaigns of the harmful effects of exposure to screens grows, so will the demand for effective, clinically substantiated and convenient solutions.
Reflecting on the changes that have been felt in the eye health industry, Martinho notes that both new challenges – like increasing time on screens – and new consumer groups, such as gamers, have emerged.
Additionally, there are novel behaviors toward prevention, with an increased consciousness that eye-health is a long-term commitment.
“Eye health maintenance across our life offers an extraordinary opportunity in public health and sports activities by assuring our vision performance is at its peak,” he states.
Meanwhile, Sato-Tomita flags that increasing life-spans mean that diseases like age-related macular degeneration will become more pronounced in the next few years.
Finally, Orešnik observes that branded and studied ingredients are appearing more and more on finished products’ ingredient lists.
“The entire food supplement space is slowly starting to address consumer demand for higher quality and tangible data on efficacy, and eye health is following suit,” she concludes.
By Katherine Durrell
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.