Pica (PYE-ka) means the habitual ingestion of substances or objects not usually considered food. It is a behavioral eating disorder in children which can start in the early toddler years; it is strongly associated with mental retardation in the child as well as disorders of parental bonding and nurturing. It is more common in poor children from disorganized homes, who lack proper supervision. These children may habitually eat clay, dirt, charcoal, plaster, wool, and most dangerously, paint chips. Children with pica are at increased risk for parasitic diseases from eating dirt, as well as for lead poisoning from paint chips and lead-contaminated dirt. Pica in children is often associated with iron deficiency anemia, so it is a good idea to check any child found eating strange things for iron deficiency.

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