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About Pica

Pica is an eating disorder characterized by a pattern of eating non-food items such as:

  • Dirt or clay
  • Ice
  • Glue
  • Leaves
  • Insects
  • Paint
  • Sand
  • Animal waste

Pica affects children more often than adults, with 10 to 32 percent of kids ages 1 to 6 displaying these behaviors. Pregnant women are also at greater risk of developing pica.

What Causes Pica?

Pica may be caused by nutritional deficiencies (such as a lack of iron or zinc) or malnourishment, though scientists are still uncertain of the exact cause. Other possible causes include:

  • Developmental delay
  • Poverty
  • Emotional deprivation or neglect
  • Anemia

The Effects of Pica

Pica should never be ignored. Ingesting materials that were not intended as food can lead to serious medical issues such as:

  • Infections
  • Lead poisoning
  • Intestinal obstruction or perforation

Treating Pica

While some people struggle with pica for several months and then stop showing signs of the disorder, others struggle well into adolescence and adulthood and require treatment to overcome this dangerous eating behavior. Treatment for pica typically includes:

  • Medical assessments and care
  • Therapy
  • Medication
  • Mild aversion therapy and positive reinforcement
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