Pica, a medical condition defined as the persistent ingestion of non-nutritive substances for at least one month without an accompanying aversion to food, is among the more perplexing forms of psychopathology in children. The condition is named for the magpie, one of many birds in the genus Pica that eats both food and nonfood items, indiscriminately.
Children have been known to eat dirt, clay, wood, paper, coffee grounds, ashes, coins, crayons, and cigarette butts as well as more dangerous and potentially lethal objects, such as nails, glass, needles, household cleaners, medications, houseplants, gasoline, paint chips, and plaster.
The exact prevalence of pica is unknown, but it is estimated to affect 10% to 32% of children ages 1-to-6-years old. Most infants and toddlers routinely place nonfood substances in their mouths as a matter of exploration. Accidental ingestions are common in this age group and are not considered true pica.
The cause of pica in children is unknown. A number of theories have been proposed to account for the behavior, including hypotheses that promote cultural, ethnic, and familial origins, as well as nutritional and dietary factors and neuropsychiatric conditions.
Theories about pica
Ethnic and family customs have been considered as possibly playing a role in the development of pica behavior in children. …