Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.2 General Requirements

4.2.0 Ingestion of Substances that Do Not Provide Nutrition

Content in this standard was modified on August 23, 2016 and November 10, 2017.

All children should be monitored to prevent them from eating substances that do not provide nutrition (often referred to as pica) (1,2). The parents/guardians of children who repeatedly place nonnutritive substances in their mouths should be notified and informed of the importance of having their children visit their primary health care provider or a local health department. In collaboration with the child’s parent/guardian, an assessment of the child’s eating behavior and dietary intake, along with any other health issues, should occur to begin an intervention strategy.
The occasional ingestion of nonnutritive substances can be a part of everyday living and is not necessarily a concern. For example, ingestion of nonnutritive substances can occur from mouthing, placing dirty hands in the mouth, or eating dropped food. However, because of this normal behavior it is that much more important to minimize harmful residues in the facility to reduce children’s exposure. Pica involves the recurrent ingestion of substances that do not provide nutrition. Pica is most prevalent among children between the ages of 1 and 3 years (3). Among children with intellectual developmental disability and concurrent mental illness, the incidence exceeds 25% (3).
Children who have iron deficiency anemia regularly ingest nonnutritive substances. Dietary intake plays an important role because certain nutrients, such as those ingested with a diet high in fat or lecithin, increase the absorption of lead, which can result in toxicity (3). Lead, when present in the gastrointestinal tract, is absorbed in place of calcium. Children will absorb more lead than an adult. Whereas an adult absorbs approximately 10% of ingested lead, a toddler absorbs approximately 30% to 50% of ingested lead. Children who ingest paint chips or contaminated soil can develop lead toxicity, which can lead to developmental delays and neurodevelopmental disability. Currently, there is consensus that repeated ingestion of some nonfood items results in an increased lead burden of the body (3,4). Early detection and intervention in nonfood ingestion can prevent nutritional deficiencies and growth/developmental disabilities. Eating soil or drinking contaminated water could result in an infection with a parasite.
Common sources of lead include lead-based paint (in buildings constructed before 1978 or constructed on properties that were formerly the site of buildings constructed before 1978); contaminated drinking water (from public water systems, supply pipes, or plumbing fixtures); contaminated soil (from old exterior paint); the storage of acidic foods in open cans or ceramic containers/pottery with a lead glaze; certain types of art supplies; some imported toys and inexpensive play jewelry; and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) vinyl products (eg, beach balls, soft PVC-containing dolls, rubber ducks, chew toys, nap mats). These sources and others should be addressed concurrently with a nutritionally adequate diet as a prevention strategy. It is important to reduce exposure to possible lead sources, promote a healthy and balanced diet, and encourage blood lead level (BLL) testing of children. If a child’s BLL is 5 mcg/dL or greater, it is important to identify and remove the child’s source of lead exposure. 
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Testing for Lead and Copper Levels in Drinking Water Testing for and Remediating Lead Hazards
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gateway to health communication & social marketing practice. Pica behavior and contaminated soil. Updated September 15, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017
  2. Miao D, Young SL, Golden CD. A meta?analysis of pica and micronutrient status. Am J Hum Biol. 2015;27(1):84–93
  3. McNaughten B, Bourke T, Thompson A. Fifteen-minute consultation: the child with pica. Arch Dis Child Educ Pract Ed. May 2017;edpract-2016-312121
  4. Moya J, Bearer CF, Etzel RA. Children’s behavior and physiology and how it affects exposure to environmental contaminants. Pediatrics. 2004;113(4 Suppl 3):996–1006

Content in this standard was modified on August 23, 2016 and November 10, 2017.