Teenager goes blind after living off chips
Has modern society forgotten how to eat? We know that, despite hardships, many of our Stone Age ancestors enjoyed a great diet. Today, we live in luxury but lose touch with necessities.
Since leaving primary school, he had eaten only chips, Pringles and white bread with an occasional slice of ham or a sausage.
Today, aged 17, he is the average weight and size. But though born with normal sight, he is registered blind.
“He has blind spots right in the middle of his vision,” says Dr Denize Atan who treated the boy at Bristol Eye Hospital. “That means he can’t drive and would find it really difficult to read, watch TV or discern faces.”
The boy, who cannot be named, was severely malnourished by his eating disorder, known medically as “avoidant restrictive food intake disorder”.
Because he was so low in vitamin B12 and D, as well as copper and selenium, “he had lost minerals from his bone, which was really quite shocking for a boy of his age”, according to Dr Atan.
He is not the only one. In the UK, there has been a dramatic rise in hospital admissions for potentially life-threatening eating disorders in the last year. Numbers more than doubled from 7,260 in 2011 to 16,023 in the year to April 2018.
Across the world, obesity — which many claim is the worst eating disorder of all — now affects over one billion people, more than one in eight, and greater than the 821 million people who are going hungry.
“We have created a society of people who are unable to eat. A society where only a very small number of people can actually listen to their bodies,” says Hope Virgo, author and global advocate for eating disorder sufferers.
What a stark contrast with our Stone Age ancestors. In 2017, scientists were able to work out that the people who built Stonehenge 4,500 years ago enjoyed feasts of roast sweetened pork, fresh vegetables and a range of rich dairy products including cheese and butter.
One thousand years earlier, settlers at Skara Brae in Orkney grew barley and wheat, hunted deer, caught fish and ate berries.
Today, we modern humans can surf three digital devices at once and visit a different continent a day — but are we forgetting how to eat?
Absolutely, say some. The history of civilisation is about moving from a life of necessity to a life of luxury. It is clear that many in the rich world are already forgetting the basics: how to play, sleep, walk, laugh, relax and love. No surprise that we are finally forgetting how to eat.
On the contrary, goes the counter-argument. What we are really forgetting (thank goodness!) is how to scrabble for a living with raw fingers all day, lie in freezing, smoke-filled huts all night and die aged 35. Life in advanced civilisations offers the chance of great human fulfillment. Any of us can be vulnerable to a terrible eating disorder. The reason it makes headlines is because it is tragic — and also rare.
- Do you have a healthy diet?
- Are we all missing out on simple pleasures?
- Make a healthy eating poster for students of your year group.
- Use the Expert Links to research and then design a beautiful menu for a feast at Stonehenge.
Some People Say...
“Grub first, then ethics.”Bertholt Brecht (1898–1956), German playwright
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- The total yearly costs for eating disorder treatment to the NHS are between £3.9bn and £4.6bn (plus a further £1.1bn of private treatment costs), with a consequent lost income to the economy of between £6.8bn and £8bn.
- What do we not know?
- The causes. There is much speculation about the balance of three possible main drivers. First, improved reporting of disorders that previously would have gone unnoticed. Second, anxiety and psychological problems associated with body image. Third, availability of junk food and cheap alternatives to a healthy diet.
- According to the NHS, malnourished people suffer from malnutrition, a serious condition that occurs when a person’s diet doesn’t contain the right amount of nutrients. It means “poor nutrition” and can refer both to undernutrition I and overnutrition (getting more nutrients than you need).
- Skara Brae
- A stone-built settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. Consisting of eight clustered houses, it was occupied from roughly 3180BC to about 2500BC and is Europe’s most complete Neolithic village.
- Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder
- Although many children go through phases of picky or selective eating, a person with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly.