CDC's Annual Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference

CDC's Annual Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference

May 07, 2019
1 min read

Nearly 25% of kids with autism have pica

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Photo of Victoria Fields
Victoria L. Fields

Nearly one-quarter of children with autism spectrum disorder have pica — an eating disorder involving the eating of nonfood items — according to research presented at the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference.

Victoria L. Fields, DVM, MPH, an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer in the CDC’s Division of Congenital and Developmental Disorders, and colleagues analyzed data from the Study to Explore Early Development, or SEED, a multi-site case-control study of children aged 3 to 5 years. Children with ASD (n = 1,426) and other developmental disabilities (n = 1,794) from multiple clinics and schools were included in the analysis. The researchers further categorized children with other developmental disabilities into those with (n = 571) and without (n = 1,223) ASD symptoms. The researchers also included 1,663 population-based controls who were recruited from randomly sampled birth records. Pica prevalence was determined through parent reporting.

Pica was most commonly reported among children with ASD (23.2%), the researchers said, followed by those with developmental disabilities with ASD symptoms (16.3%). Children with developmental disability without ASD symptoms (4.5%) and controls (3.6%) also had pica, but to a lesser extent.

The researchers noted that childhood ASD was “strongly” associated with pica (adjusted OR = 8; 95% CI, 5.9-10.9), as were developmental disabilities with ASD symptoms (aOR = 3.6; 95% CI, 2.4-5.4). However, the same association was not observed for developmental disabilities without ASD symptoms (aOR = 1.2; 95% CI, 0.8-1.7).

“Pica, a potentially life-threatening disorder, is common in children with autism or intellectual disability,” Fields said. “It is important for parents and health care providers to be aware of this risk so they can carefully monitor children, put safety measures in place and intervene early if a child does eat something they shouldn’t.” – by Katherine Bortz


Fields V, et al. Prevalence of pica in preschoolers with and without autism spectrum disorder, study to explore early development — United States, 2008-2016. Presented at: Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference; April 29-May 2, 2019; Atlanta.

Disclosure: Fields reports no relevant financial disclosures.