Pica is categorized as an eating disorder. It includes the practice of repeatedly ingesting nonnutritive substances. Although it most often is seen in children between the age of 18 months and 2 years, it is also seen in adults (though very rarely). In fact, it is sometimes seen in pregnant women, often indicating some sort of nutrient deficiency. It is not always a threat to the individual’s health but depending on the substances being ingested, it can be life-threatening and very dangerous. Some substances that the person may ingest include, but are not limited to, dirt, fingernails, hair, cigarette butts, feces, or even needles. As addressed by Medscape, what makes this a culture bound syndrome is the view that culture holds on ingesting nonnutritive substances. If the act is viewed as a part of normal practice (aka culturally sanctioned) then it is not a disorder. It becomes a syndrome when the act is viewed as strange and unacceptable. Another important qualification is that the behavior must be inappropriate to the developmental level of the individual. For example, if an American baby puts sand in his/her mouth, we do not categorize that as a disorder but rather a normal mistake that babies make. If that same individual ate sand habitually at the age of 23, we would then start to categorize it as a disorder.
Pica is not always associated with biological causes. If that is the case, it is not considered severe and may not be addressed medically. When paired with mental retardation or another disorder, it is considered more detrimental. It also must last over a month to be considered. Treatment includes addressing nutrient deficiencies, mild aversion therapy and positive reinforcement, and even medication in cases where therapy is not a possibility (such as when paired with mental disorders).