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Chalk-Eating Fairly Common In Piedmont Georgia Area



By Amanda Smith


Although it may seem strange to most people, eating chalk is a fairly common practice and is, by no means, a new trend.  The scientific name for this habit is pica, which is defined as “the ingestion of non-food substances.”  Besides chalk, people have been known to regularly eat dirt, clay, paint chips, cornstarch, baking soda, coffee grounds, cigarette ashes, rust, and even plastic.  The chalk we are referring to here is kaolin, mined around Sandersville and easily found anywhere between Macon and Augusta.  It occurs naturally and is most often used in ceramic manufacture, paper coatings, and textiles.  It is also the main ingredient in Kaopectate, an over-the-counter treatment for diarrhea that contains kaolin and pectate.



A typical size piece of kaolin after being broken up into pieces for consumption



Seen most often in African American women, the habit usually begins in childhood or during pregnancy, when the female is introduced to the practice by other family members.  Sometimes, the women stop after childbirth, but more often, the habit continues.  The ingestion of chalk is rarely seen in men or non-African Americans.


Kevin Grigsby, a social worker and professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, published a study in the late 1990s in Southern Medical Journal in which he studied 21 chalk eaters in Middle Georgia.  Grigsby found no sign of mental or physical illness, only that in almost all cases, it had been introduced to the women by a female family member, usually the mother. 


Rena Bronson of Macon was one of the women in Grigsby’s study.  “I hadn’t had any chalk since I was a little girl,” she said.  “But when I went to visit my mother, I saw a piece of it drying out on the heater and tried a little taste.”  She says that she got hooked and now eats it every day.  She says she enjoys the way the chalk turns into a creamy consistency in the mouth.  Bronson says she buys the chalk at her grocery store in Macon.



Rena Bronson of Macon enjoying her daily "habit"





When asked why they eat chalk, most women will tell you that it tastes good or that they do it to satisfy a craving.  In some places, it can be bought as a novelty, labeled as “georgia white dirt.”  But most women get it from family or friends, or dig it up themselves.



Eating chalk can cause serious medical problems, the least of which is constipation.  Some have suffered ruptured colons from eating chalk, requiring immediate surgery and potentially long-lasting health concerns, including that of the necessity of a colostomy and a much higher risk of colon cancer.  Anemia (low iron or iron deficiency) is also common because kaolin prevents the absorption of iron from foods.


Scientists and doctors now try to discourage women from eating chalk due to the various health problems that can result.  I personally spoke with three women who regularly eat chalk and although they asked to remain anonymous, all three stated that they eat chalk because it tastes good and that they crave it.  All three admitted that the craving may be due to the fact that they have been engaging in the habit for years.  They were also very clear about the fact that they had no intention of giving it up, despite the clear indication of serious health risks.





You are Visitor #  Hit Counter   Updated Wednesday April 05, 2006 12:40:42



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