Posted by Collette on July 21, 1999 at 01:08:31
I understand that all children will eat dirt from time to time. My 2 year old however, will pick up a handfull of dirt when I'm not looking and eat it. If she is in the house she will find shoes by the door and pick dirt off the bottoms and eat it. Tonight she had a cookie in one hand and a handfull of dirt in the other and she was eating the dirt. Is there a reason for her seemingly insatiable appetite for dirt, or is it something that she will grow out of. Honestly, I feed her a balanced diet every day.
Posted by HVMA Ph.D. - KDK on July 21, 1999 at 13:24:44
The behavior you describe is typical of a childhood eating disorder called pica. It simply refers to the ingestion of nonnutritive substances and, in children of your daughter's age, dirt is often the substance at issue. This condition is often, but not always, associated with various types of mental retardation.
Sometimes there is a particular reason for the ingestion, but often this is not the case. Some children have a decreased number of red blood cells, a condition called iron deficiency anemia. This sometimes results in a child's displaying pica by ingesting dirt. Your daughter's pediatrician can readily determine if she is anemic by a simple blood test. Treatment for such anemia is iron, and when the level of red blood cells is normal the pica disappears.
The risks to eating dirt are (a) infection or infestation by a parasite, if pest or animals have fouled the soil with feces, or (b) lead poisoning.
Have you called the behavior to the attention of your daughter's pediatrician? If not, please do so. He can check to see if there is a medically-based reason for the behavior, and also if she has been poisoned y lead or contracted any parasite due to the ingestion of dirt.
The most effective way to treat the condition is via behavior modification
(aasuming she is not anemic). Supervise her closely. Time her out (by having her sit on a chair, bench, stair, etc.) if she attempts to eat dirt; reward her with a little treat periodically if she refrains from eating dirt.
This information is provided for purposes of general medical education. Please consult you health care providers for diagnostic and treatment options that pertain to your specific situation/condition.
*Keyword: Pica, Eating Disorder, Toddler, Childhood, Ingestion
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