Pica Disorder Linked to Low Iron Levels among Pregnant Teens, Study


Pregnant teens who have low iron levels crave and consume non-food items, according to a Cornell University study.

The researchers said that non-food items include ice, cornstarch, vacuum dust, baby powder, soap, clay, chalk, dirt, paint or sand. The eating disorder characterized by an appetite for non-nutritive substances is known as pica.

Certain items like paint chips may contain lead or other toxic substances. The consumption of such substances can cause poisoning and increase the risk of developing learning disabilities and brain damage in children. This is the most lethal side effect of pica, webmd reports.

Normally pregnant teens, regardless of pica, face heightened risk of developing low hemoglobin and eventually suffer from iron deficiency and anemia. Pregnant teens with lower iron levels are associated with premature births, babies with low birth weights and infant mortality rates.

"In this study, the strength of the association between pica and anemia is as big as any known causal factor of anemia in pregnant teens; this is a very strong association," said Sera Young, a research scientist in nutritional sciences in Cornell's College of Human Ecology and a co-author of the study, in a statement.

For the study, the researchers included 158 pregnant teenagers of African-American, white and Latina origins. Among 47 percent of adolescents showing pica behaviors, 82 percent of them craved ice, starches, powders, soap, paper, plastic foam like pillow stuffing or sponges and baking soda among others.

 "The public health importance of pica really needs to be acknowledged," said Young. "My hope is that these studies put pica on the radar as a legitimate public health issue."

The finding is published in the Journal of Nutrition.        

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