As part of a school science fair project last year, Cincinnati seventh graders Casey Gittelman and Eleanor Bishop conducted a study of how well a group of teachers and kindergarten children could tell the difference between medicine and candy, writes Kavita Varma-White at Today.com for MSNBC.
And their results were alarming –more than one in four of the children, and one in five of the teachers, had difficulty distinguishing between pills and candy.
But their results have sparked interest in the greater science community, as the girls were asked to present their findings at the annual American Academy of Pediatrics national conference in Boston today.
"We wanted to do a project that put together candy and medicine," said Gittelman. "We thought it would be interesting to see if kids could tell the difference between them."
Gittelman's father, Dr. Michael Gittelman, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, is an emergency medicine physician, helped provide medicine from the Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to create a mixture of 20 candies and medicines.
They then randomly picked 30 teachers and 30 kindergarten students from their local elementary school and asked them to distinguish which items in the cabinet were candies, writes Varma-White.
Among their findings:
Students correctly distinguished candy from medicine at a rate of 71 percent, while teachers did so at a rate of 78 percent.
43 percent thought M&Ms were Coricidin, a cold medicine.
53 percent thought SweetTARTS were Mylanta, taken for heartburn.
half thought Reese's Pieces were Sine-off, a cold and sinus medication.
and 53 percent thought SweeTARTS were Tums, for heartburn.
Importantly, the experiment also found that students who couldn't read did significantly worse at distinguishing between medicine and candy.
In addition, the girls found that 78 percent of those surveyed said medicines in their homes were not locked or out-of-reach.
"Only about 10 percent said they stored their medicines appropriately," said Gittelman. "If people did keep medicines locked up, it would prevent a lot of unintentional ingestions."
Circular drugs and candies that had similar colors and shine and no distinguishable markings were most likely to be mistakenly identified, according to the study, writes Serena Gordon at USNews.com.
"The FDA is working hard to try to make medicines palatable to kids. But, there's a fine line between making a medicine such that a child is willing to take it, but not making it so tasty that they want to take it all the time. It's not an easy science," said Dr. Robert Squires, clinical director of pediatric gastroenterology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
"I think that if companies that make medicines could make them to look less like candy, then less unintentional ingestions will occur in kids," said Gittelman.