Junk food increases the risk of poor cardiovascular health, obesity and cancer. In this report by Sade Oguntola, experts warn that poor nutrition could also permanently damage the nervous system, particularly vision.
Fussy eating is a normal part of development that usually starts around 18 months. Usually, parents will report that their child previously ate a wide range of foods but now are picky and often refusing foods like vegetables.
“My two boys like different foods, while Kenny prefers local meals like amala and ewedu garnished with mackerel, the junior brother’s preference is pap and sometimes wants only biscuits,” said Mrs Sade Adebanjo.
Haruna Ishola, an 11-year-old boy is also picky with foods. His mother has stopped forcing him to eat because he will rather starve than eat a meal he does not like.
Haruna is more of a junk food person. As far as food is concerned, noodles and bread are about his main meal. He takes little or no fruits or vegetables.
But Sharon is a kind of a picky eater to some extent. She is picky when it comes to trying new cuisine. And half the time, it might be a food that she’s already tasted before. She just likes to keep to her regimented diet.
Less is known about how picky eating affects the overall home eating environment such as family meals, but studies have shown that picky children were at increased risk of being underweight or having poor growth.
The health implications are very real, and they’re not limited to poor growth. The risk mounts for vision impairment, poor cardiovascular health, obesity, and cancer-associated with junk food.
For instance, doctors in Britain reported a 17-year-old English boy who eats nothing but French fries, potato chips and the occasional piece of ham. He was left blind due to the extreme vitamin deficiency in his diet.
The report was published online Sept. 3 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Over a period of three years, his diet was essentially a portion of chips (fries) from the local fish and chip shop every day. He also used to snack on crisps (chips) — Pringles — and sometimes slices of white bread and occasional slices of ham, and not really any fruit and vegetables.
Initially, when he came in complaining of chronic tiredness, he was diagnosed with anaemia and a deficiency in vitamin B12, along with copper, selenium and vitamin D.
He was not over or underweight and showed no visible signs of malnutrition. He was given B12 injections and told to start eating a more varied diet.
Can a steady diet of junk food rob of vision? Lack of essential vitamins and minerals can trigger “nutritional optic neuropathy,” a rare form of optic nerve damage more common in food-starved developing nations. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent vision loss.
Multiple vitamins and minerals are important for eye health. These include vitamin A, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B12 (cobalamin), iron, calcium, magnesium, and copper.
Dr Oluwaseun Ariyo a lecturer at the Department of Human Nutrition, University of Ibadan, said “several nutrients are essential for vision. When diets are not adequate in these, then the likelihood of having poor eyesight is very high.
“People with poor vision take nutritional yeast to improve their eye sight; this is a source of B vitamins. Diet and eye health are highly linked, especially with Vitamin A.”
Dr Ariyo said there is an increased possibility of poor sight resulting from poor eating habits like fussy eating, wrong chooses of food, and inadequate intake of balanced diet.
He said: “we have adequate food resources to take care and prevent a problem like “nutritional optic neuropathy,”. However, what individuals take and the quantity of what they consume can result in malnutrition, including poor vision.”
Mr Olusegun Adio, Oyo State coordinator, Civil Society Scaling-Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN), stated that a monotonous diet is bad for health, including the eye health.
He declared that where the monotonous diet may lack such vitamins A and B that are essential for good sight.
Mr Adio added: “A situation where a mother gives her child pap and sugar every day, and no variety, that is a case of poor parenting and it portends danger. In Nigeria, we don’t eat much of vegetable. But half of our plate, when we eat properly is expected to be filled with fruits and vegetables when we eat.”
Unfortunately, poor diet quality is too common among kids and adults. Heavy reliance on pre-prepared foods and fast foods are very common.
He, however, said although many teens go through a picky-eating phase, restricting one’s diet to just a handful of foods for many years “is not normal.”
Dr Funmi Ogun, a consultant ophthalmologist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State, said poor diet will cause poor vision directly.
According to her, “it is not like the incidence at Ode Irele that people that took the methylated spirit and became blind. Methylated spirit is toxic to nerves and it was rapidly absorbed into the blood.
“Also, in the past, we had cyanide in garri that was not properly processed affecting people’s sight. Cyanide is toxic to the nerves of the body, including the fibres in the optic nerves in the eye.”
However, Dr Ogun declared that intake of a diet high in cholesterol with time can clog blood vessels. Where a small piece of it breaks off from the walls of the blood vessel and goes directly into the eyes, it can block the blood supply to the retina.
Dr Ogun, however, said poor vision due to vitamin A and B deficiencies take a long time to develop.
According to her, people now eat food items fortified with vitamin A, as such a reduction in the incidence of blindness due to vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause optic neuropathy but it is very unusual to find dietary deficiency when animal products such as red meat and chicken are consumed. These are significant sources of vitamin B12.
Dr Ogun declared that dehydration in individuals with haemoglobin problems such as sickle cell disease or due to loss of body fluids due to excessive diarrhoea and vomiting can also affect vision.
Similarly, she added that excessive intake of alcohol or smoking can also affect vision much later in life.
Poor-quality diets can increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This can lead to blurry vision and can make reading more difficult. It usually occurs after age 60.
Consuming a lot of refined carbohydrates, including foods such as white bread, chips, crackers and sweets are also linked to a higher risk of developing AMD and some forms of cataract.
So what’s a concerned parent to do? In general, the anxiety of mothers about picky eating is more likely to perpetuate the behaviour in their children. Rather it is better to introduce a range of foods to our children, and not give in to, or worry about, the pickiness.
Talking with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specialises in paediatrics, to assess the child’s growth and development, and diet for potential nutrient deficiencies are also important. It is also important to assess risk factors for disordered eating that might signal other concerns.
Restricted diets might happen for a range of reasons, including eating disorders, allergies and autism, and need specialist assessment.
Multivitamin tablets can supplement a diet but are not a substitute for eating healthily. It’s much better to take on vitamins through a varied and balanced diet. Moreover, too much of certain vitamins, including vitamin A, can be toxic, so there is a need for caution.