Candy and medicine: Can you tell the difference?

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: January 17th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

With their shiny coatings and brightly colored exteriors, medications really do resemble candy sometimes. But as a grown-up, surely you could tell the difference between the two, right? You might want to think twice before answering that.

A new study by two enterprising young elementary school pupils found that teachers were almost as likely as their young students to mistake medicine for candy. For their research, the young scientists stocked a special medicine cabinet with both candy and medication. Thirty students and thirty teachers from an elementary school in Cincinnati were asked to distinguish between the two.

The students could tell the difference between candy and medicine about 71 percent of the time. Among children who could not read, that number dropped to 67 percent. The teachers actually didn’t score much higher: They were only able to distinguish the candy from the medicine about 78 percent of the time.

There were several challenging look-alikes. For example, Sweet Tarts were mistaken for antacids such as Tums or Mylanta about half the time. The group also frequently mixed up Reese’s Pieces and a popular decongestant. Another common mistake: M&Ms and another decongestant.

These findings were troubling in light of another recent study, which found that about 22 percent of medications were not stored safely in 24 homes with children between the ages of 2 and 6. This included medicine that contained acetaminophen, which is toxic to children if taken in higher-than-recommended doses.

This could result in a dangerous situation if kids stumble across medication that isn’t properly stored. So be sure to keep medicine bottles in a secure place where they won’t be found by hungry youngsters on the look-out for candy.