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J Nutr. 1994 Jun;124(6 Suppl):954S-962S.

Pica in an urban environment.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Allied Health Sciences, Howard University, Washington, D.C. 20059.


The practice of pica, the compulsive ingestion of nonfood substances over a sustained period of time, was studied in 553 African American women who were admitted to prenatal clinics in Washington, D.C. Dietary, biochemical, and psychosocial correlates of the pica practices of a subset of this urban population are presented in this paper. Geophagia, compulsive eating of clay or dirt, was not observed in these women; pagophagia, or the ingestion of large quantities of ice and freezer frost, was self reported in 8.1% of the women, who consumed 1/2 to 2 cups a day from 1 to 7 days per week. Serum ferritin concentrations of pica women were significantly lower during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy; the average values for three trimesters of pregnancy for both ferritin and mean corpuscular hemoglobin were significantly lower in pica women than their nonpica counterparts (P = 0.0001 and P = 0.017, respectively). Although not significantly different, the iron (66 vs. 84% RDA) and calcium (60 vs. 75% RDA) contents of the diets of pica women were less those of nonpica women. Gestational age, body length, and body weight were not different, but head circumferences of infants delivered to pica women who consumed freezer frost and/or ice were smaller than those of nonpica women (P = 0.012). The hypothesis is presented that pica in African American women may be a mediator of stress, acting through the immune system. The size of the social support network of pica women was significantly less than that of nonpica women.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

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