Mommy Sonali Pandhare is worried about her 18 month old son who eats the corners of the walls.
Many young kids put non-food items in their mouths at one time or another. They’re naturally curious about their environment and might for instance, eat some dirt out of the sandbox. It is quite common for them to experiment occasionally with eating items such as those we normally don’t eat. Your child is probably enjoying the independence of getting around and making his own choices as far as food is concerned. When this goes beyond the occasional sand from the sandbox, however, you are right to be concerned.
There is an eating disorder called ‘Pica’ in which the child eats non food items. Pica is the term used to describe the intense craving for – and eating of – non-food items, such as soil, clay, starch, plaster, paint chips, and coffee grounds. The word “Pica” comes from the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for its large and indiscriminate appetite. Some of these items are harmless if consumed in small quantity, but the others could lead to infections, such as bowel obstructions or dental problems.
The exact cause of ‘Pica’ is not known, but research associates it with mineral or iron deficiency. The relation of these unusual cravings is also associated to biochemical, psychological and cultural factors.
The treatment of ‘Pica’ varies from child to child. A paediatric may emphasize on psychosocial, environmental any family guidance approach for a child, or may treat a child through iron supplements if he thinks that a child lacks that, through dietary changes. An initial approach often involves screening for and, if necessary, treating any mineral deficiencies. Looking back at the different causes of pica related to assessment, the clinician will try to develop a treatment. First, there is pica as a result of social attention. A strategy might be used of ignoring the person’s behaviour or giving them the least possible attention. If their pica is a result of obtaining a favourite item, a strategy may be used where the person is able to receive the item or activity without eating inedible items. The individual’s communication skills should increase so that they can relate what they want to another person without engaging in this behaviour. If pica is a way for a person to escape an activity or situation, the reason why the person wants to escape the activity should be examined and the person should be moved to a new situation. If pica is motivated by sensory feedback, an alternative method of feeling that sensation should be provided. Foods such as popcorn have also been found helpful. Behaviour-based treatment options can be useful for developmentally disabled and mentally ill individuals with pica. These may involve using positive reinforcement normal behaviour. Many use aversion therapy, where the patient learns through positive reinforcement which foods are good and which ones they should not eat.
There is no specific way to prevent ‘Pica’. However, careful attention to eating habits and close supervision of children known to put things in their mouths may help catch the disorder before complications can occur.
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