J Nutr. 2014 Oct;144(10):1533-9. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.192070. Epub 2014 Aug 13.

Gestational iron deficiency is associated with pica behaviors in adolescents

Lumish RA1, Young SL1, Lee S1, Cooper E2, Pressman E2, Guillet R2, O’Brien KO3.

Author information

1 – Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; and.
2 – School of Medicine, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.
3 – Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; and koo4@cornell.edu.


A relation between pica (the craving and purposive consumption of nonfood items) during pregnancy and anemia is observed frequently. However, few studies related pica behaviors to biomarkers of iron status, and little is known about pica prevalence in U.S. pregnant adolescents. To address this, we undertook a longitudinal study examining iron status and pica behaviors among a group of 158 pregnant adolescents (aged ≤18 y). Approximately two-thirds of the participants were African American and 25% were Hispanic. Maternal iron status indicators [hemoglobin, soluble transferrin receptor, serum ferritin (SF), total body iron (TBI), and serum hepcidin] were assessed during pregnancy (18.5-37.3 wk) and at delivery. Pica behavior was assessed up to 3 times across gestation. Among the 158 adolescents, 46% reported engaging in pica behavior. Substances ingested included ice (37%), starches (8%), powders (4%), and soap (3%). During pregnancy, mean SF [geometric mean: 13.6 μg/L (95% CI: 11.0, 17.0 μg/L)], TBI (mean ± SD: 2.5 ± 4.2 mg/kg), and hepcidin [geometric mean: 19.1 μg/L (95% CI: 16.3, 22.2 μg/L)] concentrations were significantly lower (P < 0.05) in the pica group (n = 72) than values observed among the non-pica group [SF, geometric mean: 21.1 μg/L (95% CI: 18.0, 25.0 μg/L); TBI, mean ± SD: 4.3 ± 3.5 mg/kg; hepcidin, geometric mean: 27.1 μg/L (95%: 23.1, 32.1 μg/L); n = 86]. Although additional studies must address the etiology of these relations, this practice should be screened for, given its association with low iron status and because many of the substances ingested may be harmful. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01019902.

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