A 14-year-old boy who had been described as a “fussy eater” recently made international headlines when doctors discovered that his apparent permanent blindness was caused by eating a solid diet of junk food. And while moms everywhere are nodding in a “told ya so” kind of way at their own kids, there are actually some serious takeaways from this incredibly rare situation.
Let’s be real, for a second. Who among us hasn’t told our kids that terrible things will befall our kids if they refuse to make good choices when it comes to their health? Didn’t brush your teeth? Awesome, now you’re going to get cavities. Stayed up too late fighting bedtime? Greeaaat. Now your brain is going to turn to goo and you’ll be grumpy all day. Won’t eat your veggies? Sweet. Now you’ll go blind.
So, what exactly happened to this kid? It’s actually a little bit more complicated than what the headlines suggest. The patient presented with extreme symptoms of vitamin deficiencies but the root cause of those deficiencies was more than just a love for French fries. It turns out this child has a little-known eating disorder called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID for short. This is an extreme version of being a picky eater.
One alarming aspect of this disorder is that most kids who have it present with a normal BMI. Kids who absolutely refuse foods and are known as “picky eaters” is totally normal and many parents struggle through this phase but for some kids, they don’t outgrow this stage and their eating habits turn into a disorder.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, kids most at risk include those on the autism spectrum, those with anxiety issues, and those who didn’t outgrow the picky eater stage.
The 14-year-old boy who went permanently blind lived on a sustained diet of fried foods, sausage, and potato chips. He lacked a wide range of important vitamins including B12 among many others. And although doctors say that a situation like this can be reversed if caught early, the sad story here is that this child will never get his sight back.
Parents who have picky eaters don’t need to panic, though. Most kids who go through the fussy eating stage really do grow out of it. By offering your children a variety of healthy, colorful foods in different textures, parents can help their kids to love new and nutritious foods. Kids vitamins are a helpful boost to make sure that little ones aren’t missing out on critical vitamins and nutrients. And of course, any parent who worries that their child isn’t thriving or isn’t developing a healthy pallet and appreciation of good for you foods can talk to their pediatrician for tips.
For more information on Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID check out the National Eating Disorders Association.