Mohave County WIC




By the end of this lesson you will be able to:

Identify common non foods items consumed by one with Pica.
List problems associated with Pica.
Recognize the symptoms of Pica.


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Activity 1:  

Can you name non food substances one might craving if they suffer from Pica?


What Is Pica?
The name "pica" comes from the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for its large and random appetite.  Pica is the craving or eating of items that are not food. There are many reasons why people eat dirt or other non food items. This practice has been described as "abnormal" and is a very misunderstood problem. To be diagnosed with Pica, a person must exhibit or show signs for at least one month. There is no specific medical test that can confirm Pica. Quite often, Pica is only seen and recognized when it results in complications that leads someone to obtain medical attention. There is no specific prevention of Pica. Individuals are encouraged to eat appropriate nutritional meals and follow healthy guidelines needed for optimum health.

The non food substances that may be ingested by a someone with Pica include:

Cigarette Ashes

Above are some common non food substances however, coffee grinds, rust,  hair, baking soda, glue, and ice have also been known to be ingested by sufferers of Pica.


Who Can Get Pica?

People who are pregnant

Most frequently, pica occurs in women before or during their pregnancies or while they are breastfeeding. The incidence of pica during pregnancy varies. It has been suggested that pica during pregnancy occurs more frequently in people who exhibited similar practices during their childhood and non-pregnant states.

Those who have poor nutrition (malnutrition) or vitamin deficiency 

Pica is also found in people who diet; they may attempt to ease hunger cravings with low-calorie and non-food substances. Sometimes, people with pica have family, ethnic, or religious customs that include eating a particular non-food substance.

Mental Retardation

Pica also has been found among small children and people with epilepsy, mental retardation, and mental illness. Sometimes, several household members may share these cravings, and those in lower socioeconomic groups seem to have more non-food cravings than those in higher socioeconomic groups.

People who have ethnic customs or live in cultures where this is practiced
For some pica is a cultural feature of certain religious rituals, folk medicine, and magical beliefs. Some people believe that eating dirt will help them incorporate magical spirits into their bodies. Still others believe that consuming certain kinds of clay can suppress morning sickness.

Individuals who live in poverty

A family history of Pica


Causes of Pica
The specific causes of pica are unknown.
Some doctors suspect that deficiencies of iron or zinc may lead to the condition.
A common nutritional theory suggests that appetite-regulating brain enzymes, altered by an iron or zinc deficiency, trigger specific cravings. Yet, the non-food items craved usually do not supply the minerals lacking in the person's body.  Pregnant women, for example, have given up pica after they were treated for iron-deficiency anemia, a common condition among pregnant women with pica.
One physiological theory to explain pica is that eating clay or dirt helps relieve nausea, control diarrhea, increase salivation, remove toxins, and alter odor or taste perception during pregnancy.  There is no evidence that this practice works - and it can be harmful for you and your baby.

*Despite the wide variety of theories, not one of them explains all forms of pica. A doctor must treat every case individually to understand what may be causing the condition.


What are the problems or complications?

There are possible complications for those who have Pica.  The eating of non food substances may interfere with the body's consumption of normal nutritional food. More so, since substances such as paint chips have toxic substances in them, ingesting these things can cause lead poisoning.

Complications of Pica can include:
Intestinal obstruction
Intestinal infections or parasites from soil
Mercury poisoning
Liver and Kidney damage
Constipation and abdominal problems
If an individual has Pica and experiences abdominal pain, problems with their bowels or any other discomfort and pain, they should seek prompt medical attention. While Pica can be harmless, ingestion of contaminated material could lead to death.

Lead Poisoning : Children are poisoned by exposure to lead dust from lead based paint in older homes than by any other source, usually through normal hand to mouth activity after getting lead dust on their hands and toys. Also, children can be seriously poisoned by eating lead based paint chips. Lead can be found in dust, paint, food, soil, water and in the air. Eating a healthy diet that includes iron, calcium and foods low in fat causes the body to absorb less lead. 

Activity 2:

1. Which of the following groups are least likely to suffer form Pica?
Pregnant Women
Malnourished Children
Adult Men


2. Name a nutrient deficiency that may cause Pica?


3. List two problems associated with Pica.


Pica and Children
Pica is seen more in children than adults. Children between the ages of 2 to 6 years of age have been known to have Pica. Babies and children up to the age of 18 months do not get Pica primarily because babies during this age will often put everything in their mouth which is normal. Some children with Pica have been said to be imitating a family pet (cat or dog) who they have watched eat a particular item. Appropriate supervision of children and any dangerous substances should be placed well out of their reach. Some Pica is considered harmless however, if you are concerned and would like more information you should always consult with your pediatrician or health care provider.
Does My Child Have Pica?
Young children are naturally curious about their environment, and they may, for instance, eat some dirt out of their sandbox. Yet children with pica go beyond this innocent exploration of their surroundings.


Look for these warning signs to determine if your child may have pica:
Repetitive consumption of a non-food item, despite efforts to restrict it, for a period of at least 1 month or longer
The behavior is considered inappropriate for your child's age or developmental stage
The behavior is not part of a cultural, ethnic, or religious practice
Your child has another developmental problem

If pica is suspected, your child may also display signs of iron deficiency, including pallor and thinned nails that are concave and have raised edges, known as spooning of the nails. The small elevations on your child's tongue may be flattened, and he may have superficial erosions and fissuring at the angles of the mouth, which frequently signals riboflavin deficiency.

What Does Pica Mean for My Child's Health?
If your child continues to consume non-food items, he may be at risk for potential health problems, including lead poisoning, bowel problems, intestinal obstruction or perforation, and parasitic infections.
If your child faces the risk of consuming toxic or potentially harmful substances, such as those contaminated by lead paint, seek medical attention immediately.



Pica and Pregnant Women
Pica has been very common among pregnant women. It has been said that Pica is a response to fill nutritional deficiency, such as low iron or calcium. If you are pregnant and experience Pica, you should call and see your family doctor to discuss problems that could occur to you and your unborn baby. In some cases, Pica stems from nutritional deficiencies and nutritional supplements may be given. In most cases, Pica ceased once the sufferer was treated for iron deficiency. Pica in pregnant women commonly disappears after childbirth takes place yet it has been know to occur during the post partum period.



Pica and Culture
In some cultures, Pica is a common practice and it has been estimated that clay eating is practiced as a daily ritual by over two hundred cultures worldwide. The practice is also known as "Geophagy". The eating of clay or dirt is done for a number of different reasons. It has been done for religious reasons such as ceremonies, to satisfy the needs of pregnant and even nursing mothers and as remedy for disease. Most people who eat dirt live in Central Africa and the Southern United States. The ancient Greeks ate clay to fight a variety of ailments.



Pica and Eating Disorders
If you're wondering if Pica is some form of an eating disorder, the answer is no. While the behavior is odd and seems strange to many of us, it is not considered as disordered eating.
Pica has been seen in people who diet who have great cravings and have attempted to cease the cravings with non-food substances since they are obviously low calorie. Feelings of hunger are also relieved and/or ceased. 

It is believed that it is rare for people who have Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa to have Pica.

Many of those who suffering from eating disorders commonly suffer from iron or other vitamin deficiencies. In cases of Anorexia where extreme starvation and malnutrition is taking place, it is believed that a person suffering from Anorexia would consume non food items to ease extreme hunger. 

If you have an eating disorder and have developed Pica, it is important that you seek medical attention for both of these conditions.


Now let's review!

Activity 3:

1. An infant who puts anything in his mouth suffers from pica. True False 
2. If your child ingests lead paint you should seek medical attention immediately. True  False 
3. Pregnant women with pica may not be receiving the nutrients she needs. True  False 


4. List three symptoms of Pica.



Which WIC Office do you go to?

Bullhead City
Lake Havasu City

Where are you taking today's lesson?




You have completed the lesson on “Pica”.  If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail one of our nutritionists.  We’ll be glad to answer any of your questions.

In Kingman you may contact a Nutritionist at
In Bullhead City you may contact a Nutritionist at
In Lake Havasu City you may contact a Nutritionist at

* If you have an extra minute, please fill out our survey on the WIC home page (where you chose this class) so we can better serve you.  Thank You.


Activity 1: 1. Clay, dirt, glue, chalk, starch, paint, gravel
Activity 2: 1. It is rare that adult men suffer from pica.
2. Folate and potassium have not been found to cause pica.
3. Ingestion of toxic substances,
interferes with the body's consumption of normal nutritional food, and constipation and abdominal problems have been associated with pica.
Activity 3: 

1. False
2. True
3. True
4. Repetitive consumption of a non-food item, despite efforts to restrict it, for a period of at least 1 month or longer
The behavior is considered inappropriate for your child's age or developmental stage
The behavior is not part of a cultural, ethnic, or religious practice
Your child has another developmental problem

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