Experts are cautioning about the dangers of “fussy eating” after a 17-year-old was detected with irreparable sight loss after living on a diet of chips and crisps. Eye doctors in Bristol looked after the young man after his vision finally deteriorated to the point of blindness.
After the teen left primary school, he had been eating only French fries, Pringles and white bread with an occasional slice of ham or sausage. Tests revealed that he suffered from severe vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition damage.
Extreme Picky Eater
The adolescent, whose identity was not disclosed, had visited his GP at the age of 14 after feeling tired and unwell. Then, he has diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency and put on supplements. Unfortunately, he did not follow the treatment or improve his diet. Three years later, he was checked at the Bristol Eye Hospital for progressive sight loss, Annals of Internal Medicine journal reports.
Dr. Denize Atan, who treated him here, said, “His diet was essentially a portion of chips from the local fish and chip shop every day. He also used to snack on crisps – Pringles – and sometimes slices of white bread and occasional slices of ham, and not really any fruit and vegetables. He explained this as an aversion to certain textures of food that he really could not tolerate, and so chips and crisps were really the only types of food that he wanted and felt that he could eat.”
Dr. Atan and her colleagues rechecked the teen’s vitamin levels to find he was still low in B12 and some other important vitamins and minerals like copper, selenium and vitamin D.
The boy was never over or underweight, just severely malnourished from his eating disorder – avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder.
Dr. Atan said, “He had lost minerals from his bone, which was really quite shocking for a boy of his age.”
He was given vitamin supplements and referred to a dietitian and a specialist mental health team.
But his sight loss met the criteria for being registered blind.
Dr. Atan said, “He had blind spots right in the middle of his vision. That means he can’t drive and would find it really difficult to read, watch TV or discern faces. He can walk around on his own though because he has got peripheral vision.”
The condition of the young man has been identified as ‘Nutritional optic neuropathy ‘ which is treatable if diagnosed early. Unfortunately, if left too long, the nerve fibers in the optic nerve die making the damage permanent.
Dr. Atan said cases like this are thankfully uncommon, but that parents should be aware of the potential harm that can be caused by picky eating and seek expert help.
She advised for those who are concerned, “It’s best not to be anxious about picky eating, and instead calmly introduce one or two new foods with every meal.”
She said multivitamin tablets can supplement a diet but cannot be a substitute for eating healthily.
She added, “It’s much better to take on vitamins through a varied and balanced diet. Too much of certain vitamins, including vitamin A, can be toxic, so you don’t want to overdo it”.
Dr. Atan stated that vegans are also at increased risk of B12 deficiency-related sight problems if they do not substitute what they miss when excluding meat from their diet.
“Nutritional yeast is a way of adding B12 to your diet,” she said.
Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans can be:
- breakfast cereals fortified with B12
- unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
- yeast extract, such as Marmite, which is fortified with vitamin B12
Rebecca McManamon, a consultant dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said restricted diets could be due to a range of reasons such as eating disorders, allergies and autism, and may need specialist assessment.
She shared, “It’s also worth noting that since 2016 the UK government has recommended daily Vitamin D supplementation (10 microgrammes/400 International Units) for everyone between October and March as we are not likely to get enough from fortified foods. Multivitamin supplementation is recommended for all children up to their fifth birthday.”