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 – an eating disorder called pica.
Pica is characterized by a compulsive appetite for substances that are without nutritional value. These substances include ice, clay, chalk, hair, paper, drywall, paint, metal, stones, soil, glass, or even feces. We talk to two experts about the disorder and its mysterious history.
According to Dr. Sera Young, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Global Health at Northwestern University, clay is among the most common pica cravings — and with good reason. Clay has been proven to help with nausea and other health issues experienced by pregnant women.
Dr. Young believes pica is an under-reported disorder. Doctors often don’t ask the right questions to uncover it, and patients are often ashamed to admit their odd cravings to medical professionals.
Pica is usually seen as an issue concentrated to tropical climates, but studies show that one-third of women in upper New York state and Chicago have experienced pica at some point in time. According to the experts, pica actually is not exotic or rare, and can be both helpful or harmful depending on what the individual is eating.
Dr. Richard Kreipe, the Director of the Child and Adolescent Eating Disorder Program at the University of Rochester, says many aspects of pica, including the specific causes, are still a mystery. But the disorder can cause a variety of issues. According to Dr. Kreipe, one of the most common is a ball or clump of material, usually hair, forming in the body of an individual with pica, causing further complications.
To learn more eating disorders and our guests, visit the links below.
- 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