Pica is characterized by an appetite for substances largely non-nutritive, such as ice, clay, chalk, dirt, or sand.

According to the DSM-5 criteria, to be diagnosed with Pica a person must display:

  • Persistent eating of non-nutritive substances for a period of at least one month.
  • The eating of non-nutritive substances is inappropriate to the developmental level of the individual.
  • The eating behaviour is not part of a culturally supported or socially normative practice.
  • If occurring in the presence of another mental disorder (e.g. autistic spectrum  disorder), or during a medical condition (e.g. pregnancy), it is severe enough to warrant independent clinical attention.

Pica is seen more in young children than adults. Between 10 and 32% of children ages 1 – 6 have these behaviors.

Children and adults with pica may eat:

  • Animal feces
  • Clay
  • Dirt
  • Hairballs
  • Ice
  • Paint
  • Sand

Pica can also occur during pregnancy. In some cases, a lack of certain nutrients, such as iron deficiency anemia and zinc deficiency, may trigger the unusual cravings. Pica may also occur in adults who crave a certain texture in their mouth.

Note: Pica often occurs with other mental health disorders associated with impaired functioning.


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