Teen survived on French fries and potato chips. Now he’s blind

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A 17-year-old boy in the UK has gone blind, and doctors say his diet is to blame. Researchers from the University of Bristol studied the boy’s case and recently published their findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For years the teenager had maintained a diet that consisted mostly of French fries, potato chips, white bread and some processed pork. He first consulted a physician at the age of 14, complaining of fatigue. After undergoing some tests he was diagnosed with anemia and vitamin B12 deficiency. His doctor took steps to correct these problems. But soon the boy’s vision started failing and, just a few years later, went out altogether. He is now irreversibly blind.

Turns out his extremely poor diet led to optic neuropathy, a serious condition that, if caught early, can be treated. However, if left untreated, it can lead to permanent optical nerve damage.

The following is from a press release from the University of Bristol:

“Further investigation found the patient had vitamin B12 deficiency, low copper and selenium levels, a high zinc level, and markedly reduced vitamin D level and bone mineral density. Since starting secondary school, the patient had consumed a limited diet of chips, crisps, white bread, and some processed pork. By the time the patient’s condition was diagnosed, the patient had permanently impaired vision.”

Dr. Denize Atan, the study’s main author, said the case “highlights the impact of diet on visual and physical health, and the fact that calorie intake and BMI are not reliable indicators of nutritional status.”

But as several news outlets have reported, medical experts are skeptical of the study’s conclusions given its limited scope.

“It’s intriguing, but it’s important to remember it’s a study of only one case with very limited information in it,” said Allen Taylor, director of the Nutrition and Vision Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts.

Taylor added that while it is common for poor diets to cause vision loss, such problems typically do not occur until later in life, usually after the age of 60.

So it would appear that there were a variety of factors, in addition to the teen’s diet, that led to his condition. Don’t give up on French fries just yet.