An investigation of the pica practices of pregnant women in Houston and Prairie View, Texas

Alice Johannah Rainville, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Pregnant African American women are at higher risk of having a preterm delivery and/or a low birthweight infant. Many factors are associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes but a food habit that deserves further study in the causal process is pica, a craving for, and ingestion of, nonnutritive substances such as laundry starch, clay, dirt, or ice. This food habit is more common in the African American population but has not been adequately studied in relation to preterm and/or low birth weight infants. Mothers (n = 281) with infants less than one year of age who participated in the Special Supplementary Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at clinics in Houston and Prairie View, Texas were interviewed regarding pica practices during pregnancy, dietary practices, and some demographic indices. Hospital records were abstracted for health information on the mothers and infants, including birthweight and gestational age at birth of the infant. The subjects were 88.6% African American, 6.8% Hispanic, and 4.6% Caucasian. Overall prevalence of pica was 76.5%. Pica prevalence by substance(s) was as follows: ice 53.7%; ice and freezer frost 14.6%; other substances such as baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch, laundry starch, and clay or dirt 8.2%; and 23.5% reported no pica. The women who reported ice/freezer frost pica had a higher percentage of illegal drug use and alcohol use during pregnancy. The women who reported other pica substances had the lowest mean educational level, highest gravidity, and a higher percentage smoked during pregnancy. There were no significant differences in nutrient intakes measured by the mean 24-hour dietary recalls between women who reported ice pica (n = 103) and women who denied pica (n = 50). The women who reported ice/freezer frost pica or other pica substances had more food cravings and food dislikes during pregnancy than those who reported ice pica or no pica. There were no differences in mean birthweight or mean gestational age at birth of infants born to mothers from the three pica groups and the no pica group but regression analyses revealed a possible relationship between pica, low maternal hemoglobin at delivery, and preterm birth.

Subject Area

Public health|Nutrition|Obstetrics|Gynecology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Rainville, Alice Johannah, "An investigation of the pica practices of pregnant women in Houston and Prairie View, Texas" (1996). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9736143.