Officials say practice of eating dirt dying out

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Public health departments in the Mississippi Delta report a decline in patients eating dirt.

Geophagia is a form of pica, a nutritional eating disorder characterized by the persistent eating of non-food items.

University of Mississippi Medical Center Doctor Dennis Frate has studied people suffering from geophagia. The medical anthropologist said it was once widespread around the world, dating back to philosopher Aristotle who observed Greek women eating clay.

Currently in Leflore County, health officials said there has been a noticeable reduction in cases of geophagia in the past five years. They report less than 20 percent of their patients having problems with eating non-food items - especially ice and cornstarch.

The number of patients with geophagia has remained about the same in the past five years in Montgomery County, according to the health department's County dietitian Lynn Burney said about 5 percent of maternity patients she has treated still eat dirt. Primarily, she said, her geophagia patients learned to eat dirt from their parents.

National Kidney Foundation of Mississippi director of Patient Services Lynda Richards said some patients receiving kidney dialysis sometimes crave dirt.

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