Eyes on Nutrition

girls eating carrots

Today is World Sight Day which is celebrated every year on the second Thursday in October to raise awareness about avoidable blindness and visual impairment.

I’ve worn glasses since I was a young student, so I’m pretty familiar with visual impairment. In fact, I couldn’t really function at all without my glasses (or contacts) -– I couldn’t drive, work on the computer, cook, manage my way through my apartment, etc.

When I was young, my mother always told me that eating my carrots was good for my eyes. My vision was pretty good then, so I thought maybe she meant I’d be able to see perfectly in the dark, or through walls. It wasn’t until I came to work for Helen Keller International that I truly understood the connection between proper nutrition and eyesight. I certainly didn’t know that that nutritional blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is the No. 1 cause of childhood blindness worldwide.Those carrots bursting with vitamin A took on an entire new meaning.

When I was in the West African country of Burkina Faso, I visited a school for the blind and met a young girl who had suffered from vitamin A deficiency and was now blind. Her sightlessness did not prevent her from exuberantly playing on a drum, but it was frustrating to see such a bright spirit who had needlessly lost her sight.


Providing children with a high-dosage capsule of vitamin A twice a year can avert vitamin A deficiency. What’s more, controlling vitamin A deficiency not only saves sight, but (since it also impacts the development of the immune system) saves lives.

For decades, Helen Keller International has partnered with governments and international and non-governmental organizations in Africa and Asia-Pacific to design, implement and monitorvitamin A supplementation programs. Last year alone, more than 100 million capsules in 13 countries were delivered to children.

Of course it’s preferable for all children to eat carrots to get their vitamin A, and Helen Keller International also offers programs that train mothers to grow carrots and other kinds of vitamin A-rich foods in household gardens, and promotes the planting and consumption of vitamin A-rich orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

Today, I’ll celebrate World Sight Day by eating some carrots. And, you can do the same, and also participate in HKI’s photo contest on Facebook by sharing photos of what you would miss most if you lost your sight!

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Categories: Africa, Preventing Blindness, Reducing Malnutrition

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