On the off-chance your kids aren’t regular readers of the Annals of Internal Medicine, you might want to share with them a recent case study the next time they want to eat junk food instead of fruits and vegetables.
In its latest issue, the flagship publication of the American College of Physicians included the story of a young man who had gone completely blind by the age of 17. The cause? Nutritional optic neuropathy, “…a dysfunction of the optic nerve resulting from improper dietary content of certain nutrients essential for normal functioning of the fibers.”
Described as a “fussy eater” by his parents, the boy initially visited the doctor at 14 years old, complaining of tiredness. The physician sent him on his way after some tests with a B12 injection and dietary recommendations, recommendations that he clearly ignored. However, there is a wrinkle here: the patient in question may not have just a fussy eater, but instead, could suffer from Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, also known as ARFID. This disorder is rare, but it does limit what a patient is able to eat.
In this case, the symptoms had expanded to include hearing loss and vision problems. More tests revealed bone, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies. At this point, the boy admitted that he had been avoiding certain foods with textures he didn’t like since elementary school. (This could be a sign of ARFID, and some sources indicate the patient was diagnosed with ARFID.) Essentially, his diet was limited to very specific foods; like French fries, Pringles, white bread, and processed ham and sausage.
Sadly, this diagnosis came too late and the teenager suffered permanent vision loss.
Nutritional optic neuropathy is, as in this case, often caused by fairly radical diets. Take the 28-year-old who, according to the University of Iowa, developed nutritional optic neuropathy after subsisting on half a gallon of vodka or more per day for a year.
Thankfully, cases like these are rare, and unless your kid doesn’t eat anything of nutritional value they probably aren’t at risk for it. They are useful as a reminder, however, of the importance of nutrition to overall health, a lesson that’s important for parents to have in mind as they try to foster a lifelong love of broccoli.
Just as important is for parents to explore the possibility that a “picky eater” may, in fact, have a form of ARFID. It’s worth looking into, and in some cases, might the life-saving research.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article omitted the possibility of an ARFID diagnosis. At least once source claims the patient in this story was diagnosed with ARFID, though a second source has not confirmed this. However, the possibility does exist and the omission has been corrected.