I first wrote about the cinnamon challenge in 2010. It involves trying to swallow a tablespoon of dry cinnamon without water in less than one minute. The results are usually a bunch of coughing and spewing of cinnamon into the video camera. (It’s common for the challenge to be recorded and put up on YouTube.)

At the time I wrote about it, I couldn’t find any evidence that anyone had been seriously harmed from the challenge. At that time there were 5,340 cinnamon challenge videos. Now, there are 757,000.

Because the challenge is so popular, a group of doctors decided to do a study. They published their findings in Pediatrics in an article titled “Ingesting and Aspirating Dry Cinnamon by Children and Adolescents: The Cinnamon Challenge.” The study offers statistics from the past few years about the number of calls made to poison control because of the cinnamon challenge. The number of calls is steadily rising, keeping pace with the increase of You Tube videos that show people participating in the challenge.

The doctors gave a few instances of adolescents who needed medical treatment for symptoms that arose after the cinnamon challenge including “extensive coughing, vomiting, nosebleed and chest tightness.” They concluded, “Although the known health risks of the challenge are relatively low, they are unnecessary and avoidable.” They noted that those at the highest risk were those who are allergic to cinnamon, or who have broncho-pulmonary disease, including asthma.

For all the details, you should read the article yourself. If you have kids, communicate with them about the challenge and let them know how you feel about it. I found it interesting this week that there were so many different interpretations of just how serious the findings were. Take a look at some of the varied opinions.

  • The Atlantic says the doctors have not made a case that a “high likelihood” of lung damage even though the article says that in 40 years, those who took the cinnamon challenge now could end up with lung damage. They see the danger of the cinnamon challenge is much more of one of kids being susceptible to peer pressure, not in danger of death due to spices.
  • Blogger Jessica Gottlieb sees the ambiguity in the statistics in a post titled The Cinnamon Challenge is Killing our Kids, followed by the first paragraph that says, “Or maybe it isn’t. Who the hell knows?” She cautions parents about overreacting to the dangers of the cinnamon challenge just because the media will overreact to the findings in the study. I agree.
  • Forbes, on the other hand, has a piece by an ER doctor who cautions, “don’t even think of doing it.” He says he’s had “first hand experience caring for the complications of teens taking “the cinnamon challenge.” (But frustratingly, he doesn’t give any accounts of his first hand experiences. He only talks about the findings in the study.)
  • “It’s a really, really bad idea,” says Time and points out some of the more serious findings in the study.
  • The Huffington Post actually has the most useful piece I’ve seen about the cinnamon challenge since the study was released. The headline is neither sensational nor dismissive, “Cinnamon Challenge: Doctors Issue Warning Against Dangerous Trend.” It sums up the study, and then has an actual account of a teen who was hospitalized with a collapsed lung after her fourth attempt at the challenge. She has, as far as I can tell from everything I’ve read, the most serious effects from the challenge.
So, how do you interpret the findings in the study?

Related on MNN: Can the cinnamon challenge kill you?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

The cinnamon challenge gets a professional study
Doctors study poison control calls and hospital visits caused by inhalation — and their conclusions offer vast interpretations.