Health experts in the North East warn about the increase of 'pica', a rare type of eating disorder

  • Video report by Faith Ajagbe

Health experts in the North East are warning about the increase of a rare type of eating disorder called 'pica'.

It is the uncontrollable urge to eat inedible things which, if untreated, can lead to severe health problems.

There are now calls for greater awareness - and more help to deal with the condition.

Adele is a mother from Newcastle who spends most of her time clearing up rooms to stop her daughter Esme from eating things she shouldn’t.

On a regular day, the 12-year-old can eat anything from sand to hand sanitiser. Her mother has resorted to hiding household items in their garage to keep Esme safe.

Esme has the uncontrollable urge to eat items like sand and hand sanitiser Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Long-term, the condition can cause severe health problems such as poisoning, blocked intestines and choking.

Adele has had to make major changes to her life in order to keep her daughter away from these items.

But Esme is not alone and this behaviour is not unusual.

According to the eating disorder charity, BEAT, demand for support with pica has more than doubled in the past two years.

The non-food items often eaten include:

  • Chalk

  • Toothpaste

  • Rocks

  • Paper

  • Crayons

The health-related problems are vast - ranging from constipation, intestinal obstruction, to mouth and teeth injuries.

Emily Thompson, a Clinical Psychologist who works with young people with pica and their parents - offering positive behaviour support says the causes of pica remain unclear making early diagnosis and treatment much more difficult.

She said: "I think there's very little known. A lot of people if you mention pica, they wouldn't recognise it. They wouldn't have heard that word before.

"So I think it's important more is done to raise awareness of pica, because it is a really serious eating disorder that can have really quite harmful impacts on people's health and wellbeing."