Peter Andre: 'Living with a blind child has taught me the value of good eyesight'
Peter Andre tells Lisa Salmon that having had a blind stepson and a daughter who needs glasses has made him appreciate eye health, and he urges all parents to make sure their children's vision is checked regularly
Every parent should be aware how precious their children's sight is - and few are more focused on the blessings of good vision than celebrity dad Peter Andre.
As well as the singer and father-of-three being stepfather to Katie Price's blind son Harvey when he was married to the former glamour model, his eight-year-old daughter Princess Tiaamii has recently started wearing glasses, and he too needed to wear specs when he was younger.
Andre (43) is keen to stress how important it is for children to have their eyes tested regularly, and how mums and dads need to keep on eye on their youngsters' vision.
"I've had first-hand experience of living with a child that's blind and it definitely makes me want to try and help other families," he says.
"As a parent, I know there are a million things to think about, but making sure your children can see properly is incredibly important.
"And they won't always tell you if they can't, because they don't realise themselves."
Estimates show there are one million children in the UK with an undiagnosed eye condition. To help reduce that number, Andre has teamed up with Boots Opticians and the National Literacy Trust to create an eye check storybook, Zookeeper Zoe, for children aged four to six, which contains a range of interactive eye check activities to help parents understand if there's a problem with their child's sharpness of vision, ability to focus and detect different colours, and to remind them that children should have an eye check at least every two years from age three.
Research shows 53% of children have never had their eyes checked, yet such checks are provided free on the NHS up to the age of 16.
"I wore glasses when I was younger, because I started to get headaches. It turns out they were caused by problems with my eyesight," explains Andre.
"It doesn't seem to affect me so much today, luckily - probably because I did something about it early enough."
The problem repeated itself with Andre's daughter Princess, who came home from school complaining about a headache one day.
"Someone suggested we take her to the optician's and it turned out she needed glasses. She looks so cool in her specs."
Now Andre, who also has a son, Junior, (10) and two-year-old daughter Amelia, vows: "I'm going to get all the kids' eyes checked and make it a regular thing."
The singer points out that up to 80% of what a child learns is through their sight. "Sight is so precious for everyone, not just children. But if there are any problems with a child's eyes, their development could be affected, which I think just proves how important it is to look after their eyesight," he adds.
"It's something that's so easy to overlook. We all remember to take our children to the dentist, but why not to the optician's?"
Russell Peake, eye health condition manager at Boots Opticians, says signs a child may have sight problems can include them sitting closer to the TV, holding their book closer, squinting at text in the distance, rubbing their eyes, blinking excessively or clumsiness. Visual problems can also make it difficult for a child to concentrate, or they may appear to have a short attention span. However, if a child shows none of these signs, it doesn't necessarily mean their vision is perfect, and they should still have regular eye checks so any developing problems can be detected and treated early on. Problems that could be detected during an eye check include long and short sightedness, astigmatism - which can affect the clarity of tasks at all distances - and 'lazy eye', where children are born with a weaker eye or an eye that's unable to develop properly.
"As a rule of thumb, the earlier any problem is picked up, the more likely it is that it can be managed or treated," stresses Peake, who points out that full eye checks can also detect signs of systemic conditions including diabetes and, very occasionally, serious problems like tumours.
"Ensuring vision is at its best can help a child reach their full potential, and the vast majority of vision problems can be corrected with spectacles or contact lenses," he adds.
"I'd encourage parents not to rely on signs or symptoms, as there may not be any, and ensure that your child has a full eye check regularly."
Free copies of Zoekeeper Zoe are available in Boots stores and from zookeeperzoe.co.uk
Ask the expert
Q: “What’s the best way to get my kids interested in growing their own vegetables? I’m hoping growing veg will encourage them to eat it.”
A: TV cook Lorraine Pascale who has grown her own produce for years having been raised on a farm, is supporting the innocent Sow and Grow initiative to get children growing their own veg.
She says: “Kids will get a great buzz from seeing a little seedling emerge from the soil and having a real plant to mind and, of course, they’re more likely to try vegetables when they’ve grown them themselves.
“All you need is some soil or potting compost, seeds and a paper cup. Start with seeds that grow quickly so children get an almost instant result.
“Let your child break up the soil and put the seeds in themselves. Talk to them about what you’re growing and maybe show them what the end product looks like.
“Involving their friends is a great idea — it’s a fun, mucky, hands-on activity for all. The kitchen is a great place to leave planted cups — you want it to be bright and relatively warm, particularly at this cold time of year.
“Herbs are great to grow with kids because they engage the senses with their different tastes, smells and textures. They’re generally easy to grow and kids will love being sent out to the garden to pick herbs for dinner. Some favourite herbs to grow are mint, rosemary, thyme and basil.
“Once kids have been involved in growing the food, they’ll be likely to try it — they might not like it, but they’ll at least try it.”
For more information about Sow and Grow, visit sowandgrow.innocentdrinks.co.uk