Prevalence and recurrence of pica behaviors in early childhood within the ALSPAC birth cohort

Natalie M. Papini, Cynthia M. Bulik, Samuel J.R.A. Chawner, Nadia Micali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The present study examined prevalence and correlates of pica behaviors during childhood using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) study. Method: Data on 10,109 caregivers from the ALSPAC study who reported pica behavior at 36, 54, 65, 77, and 115 months on their child were included. Autism was obtained through clinical and education records, while DD was derived from the Denver Developmental Screening Test. Results: A total of 312 parents (3.08%) reported pica behaviors in their child. Of these, 19.55% reported pica at least at two waves (n = 61). Pica was most common at 36 months (N = 226; 2.29%) and decreased as children aged. A significant association was found between pica and autism at all five waves (p <.001). There was a significant relationship between pica and DD, with individuals with DD more likely to experience pica than those without DD at 36 (p =.01), and 54 (p <.001), 65 (p =.04), 77 (p <.001), and 115 months (p =.006). Exploratory analyses examined pica behaviors with broader eating difficulties and child body mass index. Discussion: This study enhances understanding of childhood pica behaviors, addressing a significant gap in knowledge. Pica occurrence in the general population is poorly understood due to few epidemiological studies. Findings from the present study indicate pica is an uncommon behavior in childhood; however, children with DD or autism may benefit from pica screening and diagnosis between ages 36 and 115 months. Children who exhibit undereating, overeating, and food fussiness may also engage in pica behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)400-409
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • autism
  • developmental delay
  • eating disorder
  • pica


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