Pica is an eating disorder in which a person eats things not usually considered
food. Young kids often put non-food items (like grass or toys) in their mouths because
they're curious about the world around them. But kids with pica (PIE-kuh) go beyond
that. Sometimes they eat things that can lead to health problems.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Pica?
People with pica crave and eat non-food items such as:
Health problems can happen in kids with pica, depending on what they eat. These
malnutrition or hunger. Non-food items might help give a feeling of fullness.
Low levels of nutrients like iron or zinc might trigger specific cravings.
stress. Pica is often
seen in kids living in poverty, or in those who've been abused
Most cases of pica happen in young children and pregnant women. It's normal for
kids up to 2 years old to put things in their mouth. So the behavior isn't usually
considered a disorder unless a child is older than 2.
Pica usually improves as kids get older. But for people with developmental or mental
health concerns, it can still be a problem later in life.
How Is Pica Diagnosed?
Doctors might think it's pica if a child eats non-food items and:
has been doing so for least 1 month
the behavior isn't normal for the child's age or developmental stage
the child has risk factors for pica, such as a developmental disability
or other imaging tests to find out what the child ate or to look for bowel problems,
such as a blockage
How Is Pica Treated?
Doctors can help parents manage and stop pica-related behaviors. For example, they
can work with parents on ways to prevent kids from getting the non-food things they
eat. They may recommend childproof locks and high shelving to keep items out of reach.
Some kids with pica need help from a psychologist or other mental
health professional. If these treatments do not work, doctors can also prescribe
What Else Should I Know?
If your child is at risk for pica, or you see signs that worry you, talk to your
If your child might have eaten something harmful, get medical care right away
or call Poison Control at (800) 222-1222.