Tuesday, September 20, 2011


In the news recently, there has been some talk about an eating disorder that we don't hear too much about... Pica (pronounced- pie-kah). According to recent statistics, hospitalizations for Pica have doubled in the last decade. What is Pica?? The central feature of this eating disorder is ingesting non-edible substances. For example- paper, dirt, bugs, clay, paint, chalk, etc. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to make psychological diagnoses, defines Pica in the following ways:

  • Persistent eating of nonnutritive substances for a period of at least 1 month.
  • The eating of nonnutritive substances is inappropriate to the developmental level.
  • The eating behavior is not part of a culturally sanctioned practice.
  • If the eating behavior occurs exclusively during the course of another mental disorder, it is sufficiently severe to warrant independent clinical attention.
OK- so let's break that down... If these behaviors with non-food have been going on for a month or more, if this is not related to a cultural practice, and the behaviors are not age appropriate and is not a result of another disorder, then ! Generally speaking, a child between the ages of 18-24 months eats (or tries to eat) non-edible things, and that does not indicate the presence of Pica. It is most common in children, however, as the age of onset is infancy. It can persist through adolescence and adulthood. Interestingly enough, statistics show that 31% of Pica cases among children in 2009 were in children with autism. 

For more on Pica, follow this link.

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