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This article originally appeared in the May 2, 2013, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The “cinnamon challenge” may sound like the latest craze on the bake sale circuit, but this spicy trend is one that is landing kids across the country in the hospital.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers is warning against the cinnamon challenge after an increase in calls from kids who attempted it. The trend, depicted in popular YouTube videos, involves someone trying to swallow a spoon of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking water. Cinnamon may be tasty in small amounts in baked goods but trying to eat even a spoonful can have a fast negative reaction, says Dr. Anthony Scalzo, medical director of the Missouri Poison Center and professor of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

“First you’ve got a quantity of dry powder that you’re trying to swallow without any liquid,” Scalzo said. “The problem with anything dry like that is a possibility of choking. In addition, such a large amount of cinnamon is very irritating to the throat and the mucus membranes.”

Poison centers across the country have seen a huge increase in the number of calls about the cinnamon challenge—from 51 in 2011 to 222 in 2012, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Of those, about 30 kids needed medical attention. Children with asthma or other respiratory conditions had a greater chance of difficulty in breathing as a result of the cinnamon challenge.

Poison center numbers reflect only a small percentage of children that have tried the cinnamon challenge fad, Scalzo said. That is because many kids may not have called their state’s poison center and may have gone straight to a medical provider.

Most cinnamon challenges result in a great deal of coughing by the person attempting the prank. This coughing can also be dangerous, Scalzo said, because the person undergoing the challenge may take a deep cinnamon breath into the airway and lungs. This can cause irritation and burning through the airway and lungs in addition to the throat.

So what can parents do to protect their children from the cinnamon challenge and the next online fad that comes along to replace it? Talk to your kids about the offbeat stories about the latest teen craze and why it’s a bad idea. You may think you’re giving them ideas but you’re not: Social media means there are hundreds of channels to get news about what their peers are doing 24 hours a day.

Online fads such as planking or the cinnamon challenge can sweep through the internet like wildfire, but some of them may carry negative consequences that kids don’t understand. Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about what you’re hearing and why you hope they never participate in that particular trend. Your words may be just what they need to say no when the smartphone cameras start rolling to capture the next wacky fad.

Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is IMMUNO Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University.  If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon website at


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