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Image: Eleanor Bishop and Casey Gittelman
Kris Gittelman
Eleanor Bishop (left) and Casey Gittelman's research for a school science fair is being presented to the American Academy of Pediatricians.
TODAY contributor
updated 10/17/2011 2:31:19 PM ET 2011-10-17T18:31:19

Cincinnati seventh graders Casey Gittelman and Eleanor Bishop have candy on the brain — and not just because Halloween is right around the corner.

As part of a school science fair project last year, the 12-year-olds conducted a study of how well a group of teachers and kindergarten children could tell the difference between medicine and candy.

But their results — that more than one in four of the children, and one in five of the teachers, had difficulty distinguishing between pills and candy — are having a far greater reach than just the classroom. The pair 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.”

With the help of Gittelman’s dad, Mike, an emergency medicine physician, they got a medicine cabinet from the Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center with a mixture of 20 candies and medicines.

They 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. They also took into consideration that some of the kids were unable to read.

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.
  • Students who couldn’t read did significantly worse at distinguishing between medicine and candy, compared to kids who could read.

And what were the most common mistakes among the 60 teachers and students?

Forty-three 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.

For Bishop, the biggest surprise of the study was that there wasn’t a big difference between adults and kids. “I thought that adults would be better at knowing the difference, but they were both about the same.”

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.”

The problem of unintentional ingestion of medicine among kids is big right now, Gittelman adds. She learned this from her dad, who, after seeing the study findings, submitted it to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP picked the study as one to be featured at its annual conference with an oral presentation.

While Bishop can’t make the trip to Boston, Gittelman will present their findings to the group of pediatricians. She says she’s not too nervous about it, since she’s been practicing a lot.

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