Chalk Eating In Georgia

The article I choose to summarize was about a very interesting culture bound syndrome known as chalk, or kaolin, eating. Chalk eating is a specific type of Pica. As the article states Pica is “the persistent eating of non-nutritive substances.” Such substances as ice, paint chips, or in this specific case in Georgia kaolin, are ingested. Pica is commonly found in the mothers of patients have it in their childhood, along with many pregnant women in the rural areas of Georgia. This particular article focuses on the eating of kaolin, otherwise known as chalk. With the help of a colleague, they were able to interview 21 people who admitted to ingesting kaolin and discussed their findings.

Some interviews were done in person, others were on the phone. All of the people interviewed were black and only one was male. Reasons why these people chose to eat chalk varied from liking the taste, to pure cravings, to doing it because they knew others who did it. They acquired it from a number of different sources such as the store, friends, or directly from a kaolin pit. Almost all of the respondents reported that they enjoyed the taste of chalk and it did not make them sick. Fourteen of the people questioned said that they knew of others with the same habit. When asked, most of them did not know what others thought about their chalk eating. Though, this does seem to be strange in our culture. After the interview responses, I think kaolin ingestion is something driven by the mind to fulfill a desire.  The article did not discuss any treatment available for this other than the advice from a doctor to stop or limit the ingestion of chalk.

Though their data is limited, they believe that “kaolin ingestion is a form of pica that meets the DSM-IV criteria of a culture-bound syndrome.”  The only complication it may create is over-indulgence, but other than that it has shown no signs of leading to other psychopathology. The article reads that “kaolin ingestion appears to be a culturally-transmitted form of pica.”

Grigsby, Kevin R., Bruce A. Thyer, Raymond J. Waller, and George A. Johnston. “Chalk Eating in Middle Georgia: A Culture-Bound Syndrome of Pica?” Soutern Medical Journal. Southern Medival Association, Feb. 1999. Web. 20 July 2012. <>.

2 thoughts on “Chalk Eating In Georgia

  1. After reading your post I had to look up Kaolin. That’s a very interesting habit that was picked up. I find many differences between the common CBS’s people chose for their post and this particular phenomenon. This leads me to believe it is not a CBS. Most of the other post I read a particular population experienced a type of illness that brought them negative effects. From the wording in this article it does not sound like an illness but a bad habit that happens to be based on a culture in a specific area. If it were labeled a CBS then I would see a couple problems with it. One being that it is race based, and as we’ve read with Bidil has inherent problems in itself. Also that it doesn’t seem to be a troubling experience for them. Specific patterns of aberrant behavior are included in the definition of CBS however the article makes this sound more like a social trend. The advantages of calling it a CBS is that once it is labeled it may have more resources accessible to it, such as doctors or support groups if the individuals decide they want to stop eating this. I think this conditioned may be explained as less of a problem and more of a social fad in other cultures or systems. I think western medicine and western culture in general has a tendency to see ‘aberrant behavior’ as a lesser behavior or even a problem although it may not necessarily be either.

  2. I happen to find Pica to be a very interesting topic and I enjoyed your post very much. But I’m not sure I would classify one type of pica to be a culture-bound syndrome on its own. From what I’ve read, I thought pica was not only psychological, but often had roots in the minerals, like iron, our bodies lacked. Although, I assume most pica’s would have to be mostly psychological. I guess I don’t agree with the authors of this article, that this specific from of pica should be a CBS. I find the data to be too specific and the test group too small. I think maybe if they discussed pica in general, and in a more generalized population area, like the southeastern region of the U.S., then it would fall more into the guidelines of a culture-bound syndrome. Plus, like the first commenter said, the usual definition of a culture-bound syndrome is based on “locality-specific patterns” and not on race alone. Also, this form of pica seems to be voluntary and not classified as a disease by the people engaging in the chalk eating behavior, so there are other reasons I wouldn’t classify it as a CBS. But, one disadvantage of not classifying kaolin pica as a culture-bound syndrome would be that the possible stigma the people with pica feel may be diminished with increases awareness the CBS classification would bring. I think in an ethnomedical system that relied more on the folk sector, this form of pica would not be seen so much as a psychological ailment, but as a cultural issue that could be treated in a folk or traditional medicine manner, involving the family of the person. This would be in contrast to the U.S. ethnomedical system, where the dominate sector is professional and where every “illness” needs to be treated in a biomedical way with the involvement of professionals instead of the family.

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