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Payal Khullar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pica is a medical condition where a person craves to eat non-edible substances like chalk, sand, dirt, peels, soap, paint, paper, cotton, etc. Not every instance of eating a non-food item can be named as Pica. Almost all toddlers and young children, for example, put non-food items often in their mouth. But that is usually out of curiosity and not because of Pica. The difference between these two cases is that people suffering from Pica develop an appetite for non-food stuff and this behavioural pattern continues for a prolonged period (at least a month). If such cravings are not permanent but occur occasionally, they are an instance of “Episodic Pica”. Young children, pregnant women, and people suffering from epilepsy, autism and some other mental disorders are seen to have Pica most of the times. Pica is also believed to be a consequence of stress or vitamin deficiency in the body. The exact cause of Pica, however, is not well understood. Since non-food items do not contain nutritional elements, Pica can have a serious impact on the health of a person. Moreover, such things can even be mildly or severely poisonous. For example, consumption of soil, which is most likely to contain worms, insects, pathogenic microbes and even carcinogenic substances, can lead to severe health problems and even death.

Payal Khullar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pica is a type of medical disorder that is characterised by persistent appetite for things that are considered as non-edible scientifically and culturally. People suffering from Pica crave to eat chalks, ice, clay, sand, rocks, matchsticks, soap, toothpaste, and other such non-edible items. Note that a person might accidentally eat something that cannot be referred to as food, but such an instance doesn’t count as Pica. For such a habit to be called as Pica, it should persist for at least one month and more. Pica needs medical attention because non-food substances are devoid of necessary nutrition needed for survival and, thus, there is a risk of malnutrition and weakness. Pica can even lead to death in severe cases where someone ingests poisonous substances. Cases of Pica are observed more in women (especially pregnant women) and young children as compered to men. Pica is also frequently observed in people suffering from certain mental disorders and psychiatric problems.

eli468 | Student

Pica is a compulsive eating disorder where people eat items that have no nutritional value. Those affected with this disorder eat nonfood items that can be dangerous such as eating metal or paint which may contain lead. 

Pica is normally a temporary condition that occurs mainly in children and pregnant women. It can occur in people who have developmental disabilities and is often much worse because it is," more severe and long lasting."

Dieting and malnutrition can lead to pica, as well, because when you are undernourished your body tends to still feel hungry. This is your brain letting you know it is missing some important nutrients. People who suffer pica eat nonfood items and can feel full from it.

Some things that people suffering from pica eat are," ice, soap, buttons, clay, hair, dirt, sand, cigarette butts or ashes, paint, glue, chalk, feces," among other things. Eating these can cause very serious conditions such as," poisoning, parasitic infections, intestinal blockages, and choking."