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What is it?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Pica involves the compulsive eating of non-nutritive, non-food substances inappropriate to the developmental level of the individual. The eating behaviour is not part of a culturally or socially supported practice. Cultural beliefs and practices may play a role some societies, though cultural Pica is distinct from childhood Pica.

  • Research on Pica, including possible causes, is limited
  • The prevalence may be under-reported due to feelings of embarrassment
  • Iron deficiencies may be an underlying factor in some cases
  • Can occur during and after pregnancy
  • Can affect some people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or intellectual disability (ID)

Examples of non-food substances

A person may consume soil, clay, paint, paper, coal, wood, string, pebbles, hair, ice or freezer frost.


  • Medical complications such as lead poisoning, bowel and intestinal problems and mineral deficiencies
  • Constipation, ulcerations, perforations
  • Dental problems – abrasion and damage to tooth substance, tooth surface loss
  • Pica can be life-threatening, resulting in surgery

Treatment options

  • Medication, psychological evaluation and/or behavioural interventions
  • Applied behaviour analysis (ABA)
  • A multi-disciplinary approach