We usually associate food cravings for things like ice cream and pickles with pregnancy, but pregnant women and young children are among the most likely to suffer from another kind of craving – a disorder called Pica. Pica is characterized by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive, such as ice, clay, chalk, hair, paper, drywall, paint, metal, stones, soil, glass or feces.

Dr. Sera Young, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Global Health at Northwestern University, explains why clay is the most common pica craving —  clay has been proven to help with nausea and other health issues that pregnant women experience.. She also believes pica is under-reported because doctors don’t ask the right questions and patients are ashamed to admit their odd cravings to doctors. Pica is usually seen as a tropical climate issue, but some studies show that one-third of women in upper New York State have experienced pica at some point in time, as have women in Chicago. Pica actually is not exotic or rare, and can be both helpful or harmful depending on what the individual is eating.

Dr. Richard Kreipe, Director of Child and Adolescent Eating Disorder Program at the University of Rochester, says that a common complication is that a ball of stuff, usually hair, can form in the body of a sufferer, causing many problems. He adds that many aspects of Pica, including its specific causes, are still a mystery due to lack of knowledge on the subject.

Pregnancy and early childhood are the most common time for a strange disorder that prompts people to eat non-food items such as clay or ice. Experts discuss its mysterious history.


  • Dr. Sera Young, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Global Health, Northwestern University
  • Dr. Richard Kreipe, Professor of Pediatrics and Director, Child and Adolescent Eating Disorder Program, University of Rochester

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