Every once in a while, a family trip to the fast food drive-thru is warranted, especially after a busy day at work or a stellar grade on the day’s spelling test. But for one child in England, who developed a daily habit of eating nothing but fries, chips (“specifically Pringles”), and processed meats, excessive junk food caused him to become hard of hearing and legally blind, Live Science reports.
The child’s health issues, which were detailed in a report published on September 2 in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, began gradually. When he was 14, he went to the doctor because he was feeling tired. As the report noted, a well-balanced diet with complex carbs, greens, healthy fats and proteins is key to keeping energy levels up, as long as there aren’t other health issues at play, such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Doctors said the child was a “fussy eater” with anemia and low levels of vitamin B12, both of which can lead to lethargy. The doctors gave the child vitamin B12 injections, as well as recommendations on how to improve his diet.
A year later, he started having vision and hearing issues—neither of which could be accounted for by an MRI or eye exam.
Now 17, the child was deemed legally blind, with 20/200 vision in both eyes, and several vitamin deficiencies, including vitamins D and B12. Doctors also noted damage on the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Lack of vitamin B12 and a high intake of sugar and carbs contribute to hearing loss. Malnutrition also stunts inner ear development, leading to hearing complications.
When questioned about his diet, he confessed that since elementary school, he would not eat foods with certain textures. Doctors diagnosed him with “nutritional optic neuropathy,” a condition caused by substance abuse, malabsorption of food (a condition in which the body is unable to take in enough vitamins and fluids) and poor diet.
Unfortunately, the boy’s vision loss is irreversible. In some cases, sight issues from nutritional optic neuropathy can be cured if the condition is caught early, but because the child’s health issues were ongoing, he could only be prescribed nutritional supplements to keep his vision from deteriorating further.
Perhaps more importantly, they also diagnosed him with an eating disorder, and referred him to mental-health professionals for help—he was much more than a “fussy eater.” Doctors determined his symptoms aligned with “avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder,” or “selective eating disorder,” given he completely restricted his eating to only a few select food groups. According to Live Science, the disorder usually starts in childhood, and presents itself as “avoidance of foods with certain textures, colors, etc. without concern to body weight or shape.” It often carries into adulthood, and can have debilitating effects on people’s health and social lives. The boy’s mother, who wished to remain anonymous, told the British newspaper The Telegraph, “He has no social life to speak of now. After leaving school he got into college to do a course in IT. But he had to give it up because he could not see or hear anything.” He does not have a job, and she recently quit her job at a pub to care for him full time. His diet has remained mostly the same, with the addition of vitamin supplements. “When he was having counseling we managed to start him on fruit smoothies. But he’s gone off those now,” his mother said.
Even though the boy’s story is an extreme example of the consequences of a poor diet, it’s a necessary reminder that what we eat matters—and that the sooner you can encourage your child to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods, the better.