Hospitalizations For Pica, Eating Disorder Linked To Autism, Rising

The number of patients hospitalized with a disorder called pica, which compels them to eat non-edible substances such as clay, dirt, hair, paper, coal and feces, rose dramatically from 1999-2009, according to a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, while overall hospitalizations for eating disorders have declined in recent years.

Here's the slightly edited news release from the agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Eating disorders as the primary reason for entering the hospital declined by 23 percent from 2007 and 2009, after a steep and steady increase from 1999 to 2007...The severity of eating disorders also lessened, with symptoms like irregular heartbeat and menstrual disorders declining by 39 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

However, from 1999 to 2009, hospitalizations jumped 93 percent for patients with an eating disorder called pica...Women and children, including those with autism and other mental or developmental disorders, are most likely to suffer from pica.

According to data from the federal agency, between 1999 and 2009:

--The number of hospital stays for patients with pica increased from 964 to 1,862 during the decade, and there was an overall increase of nearly 25 percent in cases of eating disorders.

--Patients who were found to have eating disorders diagnosed generally were hospitalized for other conditions such as depression, fluid and electrolyte disorders, schizophrenia, or alcohol-related disorders.

--Hospitalizations increased 13 percent for anorexia and decreased 14 percent for bulimia.

--Although 9 in 10 cases of eating disorders were among women, those in men increased by 53 percent.

William Encinosa, Ph.D., senior economist with AHRQ and one of the report authors, said the real news here is the recent decrease of hospitalizations for eating disorders overall. "My impression is the outpatient rehab facilities are starting to get a grip on keeping patients out of the hospital," he said. "Something is really happening."

This program aired on September 8, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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