Introduction

Pica is included in a broad category of eating disorders. Pica is defined as a pattern of consuming nonfood materials, such as soil, clay and hair, for a period of at least one month. This ingestion of materials is inappropriate to the developmental level of the individual. Therefore, it does not include the exploration or accidental ingestion of nonnutritive substances by children under the age of 2. Occasionally, the definition is broadened to include the mouthing of nonnutritive substances.6

Pica is the most common eating disorder in individuals with developmental disabilities.6 In some societies, pica is a culturally sanctioned practice and is not considered pathologic. The consequences of pica can be benign or life-threatening.6

ce465-objects-in-stomach

According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition (DSM-5),5 to be diagnosed with pica a person must display:

  • Persistent eating of nonnutritive substances for a period of at least one month.
  • The eating of nonnutritive substances is inappropriate to the developmental level of the individual.
  • The eating behavior is not part of a culturally supported or socially normative practice.
  • If occurring in the presence of another mental disorder (e.g., autistic spectrum disorder) or during a medical condition (e.g., pregnancy), it is severe enough to warrant independent clinical attention.

Note: Pica often occurs with other mental health disorders associated with impaired functioning.