Blindness from lack of fruit and vegetables ‘could happen here’

Irish eat less than half of recommended fruit and veg, say Nutrition and Dietetic Institute

Dieticians have warned that a balanced diet is neccesary for nutritional reasons as much as to combat obesity.

Dieticians have warned that a balanced diet is neccesary for nutritional reasons as much as to combat obesity.


Irish people are eating less than half of the recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables and it could be just a matter of time before the Republic has a case such as that of the UK where a teenager went blind due to deficiencies in his diet, according to an expert.

Researchers from Bristol Eye Hospital said the boy first presented to his doctor aged 14, complaining of tiredness, according to a case report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Aside from being labelled a “fussy eater”, the Bristol boy took no medication and had a normal body mass index (BMI). Tests showed he had low vitamin B12 levels and macrocytic anaemia – a condition bringing larger-than-normal red blood cells.

He was given B12 injections and dietary advice, but when he returned a year later he had developed some hearing loss and impaired vision, though still no cause was found.

“By age 17, the patient’s vision had become progressively worse, to the point of blindness,” the report said.

Investigating the boy’s nutrition, physicians found vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiencies, a reduced bone mineral density, low levels of copper and selenium, and a high zinc level.

“The patient confessed that since elementary school, he had avoided foods with certain textures and only ate French fries, Pringles, white bread, processed ham slices, and sausage,” the report said.

“By the time his condition was diagnosed, the patient had permanently impaired vision.”

Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute spokeswoman Louise Reynolds, who is also a registered dietician, told The Irish Times that while the case was “certainly not normal or common”, it should act as a wake up call for Irish parents.

“It’s shocking when things like happen in this day and age when we’re surrounded by food,” she said. “Parents need to ensure children are not eating what we would call a beige diet: pasta, white bread, French fries, Pringles.

“If that’s literally all he’s eating, that diet is so limited. There is nothing fresh in there. We would talk about eating a rainbow of foods.

“The guidelines are five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but the average Irish intake is 2½ portions. That would apply to children and adults. We’re not eating enough fruit and vegetables.

“This is certainly not normal or common. The doctors treating him obviously didn’t think of nutrition straight away for that reason. It is the very extreme end of poor diets, lack of knowledge about nutrition, and access to fast foods and processed meats.

“If there’s one child in the UK with this, it’s could be only a matter of time before we have a child in Ireland”, given the very similar diets, supermarkets, and access to the same types of foods. “It highlights the danger of such a restricted diet.”

The report in the Annals of Internal Medicine cautioned that nutrition-related optic damage should always be considered by doctors finding any patient with unexplained vision symptoms.

“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.”