I occasionally get asked about children who often eat chalk or dirt. Frustrated parents will go from doctor to doctor with no answer for why this mysterious eating happens. Pica is sometimes the result of a nutrient deficiency such as being low in iron. Those with Pica will eat ice, sand, clay, chalk, soap, paper, cigarette butts, garbage or glue. Sometimes food ingredients like flour, baking soda, or coffee grounds are also consumed.
Pica is usually most common in children, in fact 25-30% have Pica. Of course if a child eats dirt only once or twice I wouldn't be alarmed as children are as I like to say "radically curious". If it happens frequently then there is the concern that ingesting these substances may cause serious issues such as intestinal perforation, infections, or lead poisoning. Pica may also be a side effect of autism or mental disabilities. Pregnant women may also develop cravings for non-edible substances. If Pica is not the result of a nutritional deficiency then therapy might be necessary.
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