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
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.