A teenager has lost his sight after several years of not eating fruit or vegetables, say researchers from Bristol Eye Hospital.
The boy first presented to the doctor aged 14 complaining of tiredness, but he was not overweight or underweight and had a normal body mass index (BMI), according to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal.
He was labelled a ‘fussy eater’ and blood tests showed he was low in vitamin B12 and had macrocytic anaemia – a condition which causes larger-than-normal red blood cells – so was given B12 injections and dietary advice.
But when he returned a year later his condition had worsened. He had not stuck to the dietary advice or taken supplements, and had developed hearing loss and impaired vision.
By the time he was 17 the boy, who cannot be named, was suffering with impaired vision to the point of blindness, according to the report.
Investigating the boy’s nutrition, doctors found continued vitamin B12 as well as vitamin D deficiencies, a reduced bone mineral density, low levels of copper and selenium, and a high zinc level.
His diet was essentially a portion of chips from the local fish and chip shop every day.
It was at that point the patient confessed since primary school he had avoided foods with certain textures and existed on a diet of only fries, Pringles, white bread, processed ham slices and sausage.
Dr Denize Atan, who treated him at Bristol Eye hospital, 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.”
Doctors say his vision is permanently impaired as a result and warned other physicians should always consider nutrition-related damage as an option when patients present with otherwise unexplained vision problems.
His sight has been so affected he now qualifies for registered blindness.
“He had blind spots right in the middle of his vision,” said Dr Atan. “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.”
This is despite the patient not presenting as over, or underweight. Although he was severely malnourished to the point that he had lost bone mineral, which Dr Atan says is “really quite shocking” for a boy of his age.
“The risks for poor cardiovascular health, obesity and cancer associated with junk food consumption are well known, but poor nutrition can also permanently damage the nervous system, particularly vision,” the report said.
“It is rare in developed countries. The condition is potentially reversible if caught early. But if left untreated, it leads to permanent blindness.”