French fries (illustrative)
French fries (illustrative)Credit: iStock

A 17-year old teenager in Bristol, England became legally blind and lost much of his hearing due to his poor diet, consisting exclusively of junk food, according to a report released on Monday.

Since age 10, Jake has eaten only French fries, Pringles, white bread and processed ham because he couldn't tolerate the texture of other foods.

"He was a 'fussy eater' but was otherwise well and took no medications," the report said, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Jake's mother, Angie, took him for a medical exam three years ago due to his complaints of fatigue. He was diagnosed with anemia and given vitamin injections and instructed to eat meat and vegetables. However, Jake failed to improve his diet or stick with his vitamin regimen.

A year later, he began having problems with his vision and hearing and was eventually diagnosed with nutritional optic neuropathy caused by vitamin B12 deficiency and low copper and selenium levels. The condition is usually caused by drug use or a poor diet together with heavy drinking or smoking.

However, Jake didn't drink, use drugs or smoke and doctors were initially puzzled by his condition, thinking it was all in his head. "By the time they realized what was wrong it was too late to save his sight," Angie told The Sun. “The whole ordeal has been very traumatic. I want to scream about what we have gone through – it’s all very hard. I have two other children who don’t stop eating. They are fine.”

Angie said that she did everything she could to help Jake. “If I was reading this about somebody else’s child I would blame the parents for their poor diet. But I know I did all I could for Jake. I used to feed him fruit and vegetables and send him to school with a healthy lunch."

“He would pick at his food at home like any child does. I didn’t realize it was so serious. He looked healthy, was a good height and weight and played football with his friends."

Although Jake was a normal weight, he was severely malnourished due to his eating disorder, called avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder. "He had lost minerals from his bone, which was really quite shocking for a boy of his age," said Dr Denize Atan of Bristol Eye Hospital

"He had blind spots right in the middle of his vision," Dr Atan said. "That means he can't drive and would find it really difficult to read, watch TV or discern faces. He can walk around on his own though because he has got peripheral vision."

Jake, now 19, wears a hearing aid. He dropped out of college and spends most of his time in his room, according to The Sun report. He is waiting to receive an appointment with a mental health counselor.

“I’ve become very isolated," Jake said. "When I was little I’d go out and play football with my friends. I’m too frightened to do that now.”

Jake still eats a very limited diet but advises others to get help as quickly as they can if they have the same problem. "I’d encourage people to get help as soon as they realize they have an eating problem. I can’t remember when it started but it quickly got out of control and I let it progress too far.”

"His diet was essentially a portion of chips from the local fish and chip shop every day," Dr Atan said. "He also used to snack on crisps - Pringles - and sometimes slices of white bread and occasional slices of ham, and not really any fruit and vegetables."

"He explained this as an aversion to certain textures of food that he really could not tolerate, and so chips and crisps were really the only types of food that he wanted and felt that he could eat."

“This shows the importance of eating a balanced diet with fruit and vegetables. The patient took fussy eating to the extreme and now has permanent loss of vision and some hearing impairments. It started when he was at primary school but his issues were not addressed until it was too late. Cases like this are rare in developed countries.”