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Pica among Mexican women

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Although pica, the craving and purposive consumption of non-food substances, is common among many populations, especially during pregnancy, the health consequences are not well understood. Further, very little is known about pica among Mexican populations in the United States and Mexico. Therefore, we conducted formative research to understand pica in this understudied population. Our objectives were to identify the frequency and types of pica behaviours, to understand perceived aetiologies and consequences of pica and to ascertain if the behaviour was common enough to warrant a larger study. We held nine focus group discussions (three in the Salinas Valley, California; six in Xoxocotla, Morelos, Mexico) with 76 Mexican-born women who were currently pregnant or had delivered within the past 2 years. Earth, adobe, bean stones and ice were the most commonly reported pica substances. Twenty-eight of the 76 participants (37%) reported ever engaging in pica; 22 participants (29%) reported doing so during pregnancy. The proportion of women reporting pica in the United States and Mexico was 43% and 34%, respectively. Women attributed pica to the overwhelming organoleptic appeal of pica substances (especially smell and texture) and to micronutrient deficiencies. Perceived consequences of unfulfilled pica cravings were birthmarks or fetal loss; fulfilled pica cravings were also thought to be generally harmful to the mother or child, with several women specifying toxic lead, pesticides or 'worms'. In sum, pica among Mexican women is common enough to warrant a larger epidemiologic study of its sociodemographic correlates and physiological consequences.

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