Previous studies have demonstrated positive associations between myopia and environmental risk factors such as urbanization. However, these have failed to account for the clustering of individuals within geographical areas, opening analyses to theoretical and statistical limitations. We demonstrate how a multilevel modelling approach can provide a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between geography and myopia. We examined longitudinal associations between onset of myopia and urban/rural status or population density.
Data were collected over 5 visits during an 8-year period for a UK cohort of 3,512 children. Associations between incident myopia (spherical equivalent ≤ -1.00 diopters) and both urban/rural status and population density were examined using discrete time multilevel hazard models which allow the partitioning of variance into different neighborhood and school areas. Results : There was evidence for an association between myopia and higher population density (Hazard Ratio = 1.14; 95% CI = 1.032 to 1.26) after adjustment for a range of risk factors. There was no strong evidence that urban/rural status was associated with incident myopia. Only a minor amount of variation in myopia was attributable to geographical areas (<2.2%), and this was not explained by rurality or population density.
Our findings contrast with previous studies and raise the possibility that some of the results reported may have been driven by confounding bias whereby geographical differences in myopia are driven by lifestyle factors that are correlated with geographical setting.
- Population density