Medicine Often Mistaken for Candy, says Study

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Elementary school teachers aren’t much better than kindergarten students at distinguishing medicine from candy, according to a study by two sixth graders.

Students were correct in distinguishing candy from medicine at a rate of 71 percent, while teachers were correct at a rate of 78 percent. One of the students, Casey Gittelman, presented the study Oct. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Boston.

“We found that neither teachers nor students store their medicines appropriately at home,” says Gittelman, whose father, Mike, is an emergency medicine physician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and co-author of the study. “Interventions to educate families about safe storage of medicines, and manufacturing medicines to have distinguishable appearances may help to reduce unintentional ingestions of medications,” she says.

Gittleman and classmate Eleanor Bishop, now seventh graders, conducted the study at Ayer Elementary School, a suburban Cincinnati public school. The Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children’s supplied a medicine cabinet with a mix of 20 candies and medicines. Gittleman and Bishop randomly surveyed 30 kindergarten students and 30 teachers at the school to determine whether they could distinguish candy from medicine.

Students were correct in distinguishing candy from medicine at a rate of 71 percent, while teachers were correct at a rate of 78 percent. Students who couldn’t read did significantly worse at distinguishing between candy and medicine compared to students who could read.

The most common mistakes among teachers and students were M&Ms being mistaken for Coricidin (43 percent), SweeTARTS for Mylanta (53 percent) Reese’s Pieces for Sine-off (50 percent), and SweeTARTS for Tums (53 percent).

Seventy-eight percent of the 60 teachers and students in the study said medicines in their homes were not locked and out-of-reach.

“Combinations most frequently mistaken were circular objects, those similar in color and shine, and those with no distinguishable markings,” says Bishop.

About Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center ranks third in the nation among all Honor Roll hospitals in U.S. News and World Report's 2011 Best Children's Hospitals ranking. It is ranked #1 for gastroenterology and in the top 10 for all pediatric specialties - a distinction shared by only two other pediatric hospitals in the United States. Cincinnati Children's is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health. It is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at

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