If you suffer from short-sightedness and wear glasses, you might have heard the question 'Did you watch too much television as a child?' Your parents might have scolded you for not taking good care of your eyes, or your friends might have laughed at you for reading too much and being a bookworm. You yourself might have believed that you were to blame for your bad eyesight. It might not be so, according to a visual screening project jointly conducted by the Department of Opthalmology and Visual Sciences of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Prince of Wales Hospital. 'It could be as much nature as nurture. New studies have shown that a lot of problems actually stem from before birth, that it is actually genetic,' says Dr Dennis S. C. Lam, who headed the project. Just like our brain which has still to fully develop after birth, our eyes continue to develop until we are seven years old. If there is any damage that needs correcting, it should be done before then. The project, which surveyed 623 pre-school children from ages two to seven at TWGH Liu Yan Tak Memorial Kindergarten and TWGH Tsui Tsin Tong Kindergarten, found that more than 20 per cent of the children suffered from refractive errors such as short-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism as well as anisometropia, squint or lazy eye. A most striking finding from the survey was the high prevalence of astigmatism. More than 25 per cent of the screened children had astigmatism of 100 degrees or higher. This alarming figure is among the highest in developed countries and deserves attention, experts say. 'Uncorrected astigmatism will cause a blurry image that could affect the growth of the eyeball and result in short-sightedness or possibly lazy eye,' Dr Lam explained. 'I hope parents will take note of these findings and watch out for these problems in their children. 'In the United States, parents take their children for check-ups when they are born, and when they are six months old, three years old, and five years old. This way, they can be sure that no serious problems are neglected.' Au Ka-sing is a five-year-old boy who had long-sightedness, and lazy eye. Before, everything was blurry and he had to stick his nose close to the desk to see things better. He did not have much self-confidence as other children made fun of him. Ka-sing then took part in the screening project and his problems were detected through a series of tests. Now his vision has been corrected and he has almost fully recovered. He claims proudly: 'I'm a smart boy and study well now!' His mother is happy that his eye problems are cured. 'We live in a prejudiced world and people without eye problems have more opportunities,' Mrs Au said. Dr Lam used Ka-sing and two of his schoolmates, Tse Wai-hing and Yuen Tsun-yuen, who both suffered from serious astigmatism, myopia and were cock-eyed, as examples of why it was important to start eye care at a young age. 'If they did not have their problems corrected in time, they might have suffered vision loss three or four years from now.' After Dr Lam released the results of his study, his colleague, Professor Mark Tso, took the opportunity to announce the establishment of the 'Fight for Sight Foundation', dedicated to people with eye diseases and other vision impairments. 'The need for eye care has greatly increased in the last few years,' Professor Tso said. He hopes the foundation can accelerate the development of resources so as to offer better eye-care programmes for the community, especially for lower-income families. The foundation also aims to help those with vision impairment or blindness. 'The foundation is not supported by any organisation, so we really need donations,' Professor Tso said. Those who would like to help can send a cheque, payable to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to Ms Mimi Yeung, Hong Kong Eye Care Hospital, 147K Argyle Street, Kowloon.