icon-arrow-down icon icon-arrow-fill-down icon icon-arrow-next icon icon-arrow-prev icon icon-tag-close icon
Why do some kids eat sand?
Q: From the age of 5 until 12, I ate white sand from our little beach at home. Now I’m 65 and OK. What do you make of that?
Fred Milton, Vt.
A: Fred, it sounds like you had “pica,” a habit of eating non-food substances. This is actually quite common in young children and usually goes away by adolescence. In addition to sand, children commonly eat clay, dirt, pebbles, hair, fingernails, feces, laundry starch, pencil erasers, paper, paint chips, chalk, wood, plaster, cigarette butts and burnt matches.

We don’t know all the causes of pica. It can be associated with hunger, malnutrition and deficiency of minerals and vitamins. It can also be associated with family stress. It is more common in children with mental retardation, autism and mental illness. It is also considered a normal traditional practice in some cultures around the world.

Although most children are not seriously harmed by pica, there are some medical dangers such as lead poisoning, intestinal parasite infections and intestinal obstruction. Thankfully, it sounds like your pica didn’t cause you any long-term medical problems.

If parents are aware that their child has pica, it’s important to talk to the child’s doctor about it. The doctor would review the child’s development, examine him and may do a blood test for lead poisoning, anemia and mineral deficiencies. The recommended treatment would be to follow a balanced diet, remove toxic substances from the environment, supervise the child carefully and follow a behaviour modification plan to stop the child from eating non-food substances.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician