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Obesity Linked to Blindness

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Most of us know that being obese increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and certain cancers. But now a new report from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) supported by Boots Opticians reveals that being obese means you’re also twice as likely to go blind.

It’s thought that oxidative damage associated with being obese doubles the risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. This latter condition affects vision by causing damage to a small area of the retina called the macula and is the leading cause of blindness in the UK.

Furthermore, people who are obese are up to 10 times more likely to develop diabetes, a condition that increases the risk of an eye-damaging complication called retinopathy. It occurs when blood vessels in the retina of the eye become damaged, which in turn affects the way light passes through to the retina and, if left untreated, can damage vision.

Barbara McLaughlan, RNIB Eye Health Consultant, says, “With a staggering one in five adults and children in the UK now considered to be obese, RNIB believes it is vital that people are made aware of the risks to their sight.”

Boots optician David Cartwright, adds, “We estimate that in 2005, only one in four children and a third of adults had an eye test. Research shows that anyone who does not have an eye test at least once every two years is at risk of missing signs of specific eye conditions or underlying systemic diseases such as high blood pressure or glaucoma.”

WLR says:

This report indicates, yet again, how important it is for us to lose weight if necessary to keep our entire bodies fit, healthy and functioning properly. But it also highlights the benefits of eating a healthy diet.

Filling up on a diet that’s low in fat, sugar and salt but contains plenty of fruit, veg and wholegrains, isn’t just good for controlling our weight and keeping our heart healthy – it’s good for every other part of our bodies, too, including our eyes.

Research shows that filling up on foods that are packed with antioxidants can help keep our peepers on tip top form. And for most of us, that means eating more fruit and veg!

In particular, research shows that two antioxidant nutrients called lutein and zeaxanthin can help to protect against age-related macular degeneration, and to a lesser extent, cataracts.

Both of these antioxidants are found in large amounts in the macula and help to protect the eye from the damaging effects of UV light by mopping up excess harmful free radicals that are triggered by this UV light.

Better still, they’re found in green and yellow veg and fruit, making them a great choice for slimmers due to their low calorie and fat content. Good sources include kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, broccoli, green beans, peas, peppers, sweetcorn, citrus fruits and honeydew melon.

Meanwhile, two other antioxidant vitamins – C and E – are also important for eye health.

Vitamin C has been shown to prevent cataracts and may help to reduce pressure in the eyeball of people with glaucoma, although more research is needed in this area. The positive effects of vitamin C relate to its ability to mop up harmful free radicals and good sources include citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruit, tomatoes and peppers – again, all great choices for slimmers.

Research shows the antioxidant properties of vitamin E may also help to prevent cataracts as well as keeping the blood vessels in the eye healthy. This vitamin is found in pure vegetable oils, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, wheatgerm, eggs, green leafy veg and wholegrains.

For keeping eyes healthy, it’s also crucial to eat sufficient vitamin A-containing foods. This vitamin helps to form a pigment called rhodopsin that’s located in specific cells of the retina and is critical for night sight.

There are two forms of vitamin A available to the body – retinol and beta-carotene, the latter of which is a powerful antioxidant that’s converted into vitamin A in the body.

Retinol is found in full-fat milk, cheese, butter, egg yolk, liver and oily fish, while beta-carotene is found mainly in yellow, red and orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, mangoes and apricots, and in dark green vegetables. In other words, eating carrots – together with all the other foods listed above – really can help you see in the dark!

Finally, it’s important to get your eyes tested regularly. This will help to pick up any conditions early on so they can be treated.

The RNIB recommends regular eye tests every two years for 16-59 year olds and annually for everybody else, unless advised otherwise by an optician. Diabetes UK recommends people with diabetes have their eyes tested every year as part of the annual check up. Your doctor should be able to give more advice.

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