Prevalence of Pica in Preschoolers with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder, Study to Explore Early Development — United States, 2008–2016

  • Pica, or the eating of non-food items, was commonly seen in young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other types of developmental disabilities in which the child had some autism symptoms, intellectual disability (ID), or both. For example, we found that among preschool-aged children, the prevalence of pica was around 28% in children who had both ASD and co-occurring ID, around 14% in children who had ASD without ID, and around 10% in children who had ID without ASD or autism symptoms. In comparison, less than 4% of children in the general population had pica. Young children with developmental disabilities not characterized by either autism symptoms or intellectual disability had a similar pica prevalence to children in the general population.
  • Pica can lead to serious medical and surgical problems including gastrointestinal parasites, lead toxicity, nutritional deficiencies, choking, poisoning, intestinal obstruction or perforation resulting in surgery, and even a blood infection, which can be life-threatening.
  • These data inform the specialized health care needs of children with ASD, developmental disabilities with autism symptoms, or intellectual disability. These children will most benefit from careful monitoring and safety precautions to prevent pica.
Quote from the Disease Detective

“Pica, a potentially life-threatening disorder, is common in children with autism or intellectual disability. It is important for parents and healthcare 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.”

– Victoria Fields, DVM, MPH, EIS Class of 2018

EIS officers working on systems[JPG - 205 KB]

EIS officer Victoria Fields, DVM, MPH (second row), works with other EIS officers on an assessment of the quality of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) reporting in Pennsylvania in 2019.

Contact Information

CDC Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

Conference Information
Victoria Fields


Victoria Fields, DVM, MPH,
EIS Class of 2018
CDC National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Division of Congenital and Developmental Disorders

Education: DVM: Tufts University, 2010
MPH: Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2017
BA: University of Pennsylvania, 2003

Work Experience: Emergency Veterinarian, Vet Referral Center of Colorado, Englewood, Colorado 2011-Present
Vet Intern, Animal Hospital Center, Highlands Ranch, Colorado, 2010-2011
Student Tech, Henry & Lois Hosp, North Grafton, Massachusetts, 2007-2009
United States Department of Agriculture Practicum, Ft. Collins, 2016
Epi Elec.For Med/Vet Students, CDC, Atlanta, Georgia, 2010
CRES EpiStudent Fellow, San Diego Zoo, 2007
International Student Summer Resident Project, Tufts University, Mexico, 2007

Volunteer Experience: Denver Botanic Gardens, 2012-present