Study Buddy (Explorer): Teen in China pulls and eats so much of her own hair there is no room for food in her stomach

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  • The compulsion is understood to be connected to a mental health condition called pica, where a person has an abnormal desire to eat inedible items
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Some people suffering from pica eat their own hair. Photo: Shutterstock

Content provided by British Council

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] Surgeons in China have removed a hairball the weight of a brick from the stomach and intestines of a teenage girl, who suffers from a disorder which compels her to pull out and eat her own hair. The girl, 14, underwent surgery to remove the 3kg clump of hair in a hospital in northwestern China. Her tragic predicament has brought into sharp focus the plight of China’s so-called left-behind children.

[2] This is the severity of her situation: the unidentified girl from Xian in Shaanxi province has almost gone bald after plucking out and then eating her hair. The compulsion is understood to be connected to a psychological condition called pica, according to the White Dear Video news app. Pica is a mental health condition where a person has an abnormal desire to eat inedible items. It is mostly found in children.

[3] The girl’s parents had previously moved to a different part of China for work. This was when her grandparents assumed responsibility for her upbringing, but they failed to notice her condition until she became too ill to eat, Shi Hai, the gastroenterologist from Xian Daxing Hospital in charge of her treatment, was quoted as saying.

[4] At the end of two hours of surgery, doctors had removed enough hair from the girl’s stomach and intestines to make up a huge hairball weighing 3kg, roughly the same as a brick. “She came to us because she couldn’t eat. We then found that her stomach was filled with so much hair that there was no more room for food; her intestine was also blocked,” said Shi.

[5] He ascribed her addiction to eating her own hair to Pica. “She lives with her grandparents, who haven’t paid enough attention to her behaviour. She may have suffered psychological issues for many years. So I hope, more generally, that parents can spend more time with those left-behind children,” Shi said. The girl is one of tens of millions of “left-behind children” in China’s rural areas after their parents move away for work.

[6] According to the Ministry of Education, in 2020, of all the students receiving the country’s nine-year compulsory schooling, normally aged between six and 15, nearly 13 million were rural children left behind by their parents. Instances of children suffering from pica have made news headlines in China in recent years. Previously, a local television station reported that doctors in Hubei province had to remove a giant hairball from the stomach of a girl, also aged 14. She had been eating her own hair for more than a decade.
Source: South China Morning Post, November 26


1. In paragraph 1, what was removed from the girl’s stomach and intestine?

2. According to paragraph 1, the girl’s condition causes her to __________ her hair.
A. cut
B. burn
C. eat
D. all of the above

3. Based on paragraph 1, what wider social issue has the girl’s condition highlighted?

4. Find a word in paragraph 2 that means “seriousness”.

5. Decide whether the following statements in paragraphs 1 and 2 are True, False or the information is Not Given. Blacken ONE circle only for each statement.
(i) Pica refers to a situation when someone eats things that are not food.
(ii) The girl was on the verge of losing all her hair.
(iii) There is a rise in “left-behind children” who are suffering from pica.
(iv) Pica is considered a physical disability.

6. In paragraph 3, the girl only received treatment when ...
A. she was unable to eat.
B. she complained about her stomachache.
C. her grandparents noticed her hair loss.
D. her parents came back to visit her.

7. Complete the following paragraph based on the information in paragraph 4 by writing ONE word in each blank below. Your answers must be grammatically correct. (4 marks)
During the surgery, doctors realised the girl’s stomach and (i) __________ were filled with hair. They ended up (ii) __________ 3kg of hair. Shi, the doctor in charge of her treatment, said that the hair was (iii) __________ her intestines, causing her to be unable to (iv) __________.

8. According to paragraph 5, how might the girl’s condition have been addressed earlier? (2 marks)

9. In paragraph 6, what might be the reason for calling youngsters such as the girl “left-behind children”?

For “left-behind” children, joining their parents in the city is not usually an option, as education and healthcare in China are accessible only in the district where a child is born and registered. Photo: Getty Images


1. hair
2. C
3. the plight of China’s “left-behind” children
4. severity
5. (i) T; (ii) T; (iii) NG; (iv) F
6. A
7. (i) intestine; (ii) removing; (iii) blocking; (iv) eat
8. It might have been addressed earlier if her grandparents had paid more attention to her behaviour and if her parents had spent more time with her.
9. They are called this term because they stay behind in rural villages while their parents move away to other areas to find work. (accept other similar answers)

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