When measuring medicine, stay away from the spoon

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A new study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice adds to research suggesting that, when it comes to measuring children’s medicine, a “spoonful” is seldom the right dose. The findings highlighted by the BBC are based on an analysis of teaspoons taken from 25 households in Greece, as well as an experiment in which five study participants were asked to measure out the correct dose when given a calibrated measuring spoon. They found that, even in this small sample of homes teaspoon sizes varied significantly — the largest spoons found were three times the size of the smallest — and even when participants were given precise spoons for measuring 5 ml doses, only one in five managed to pour the accurate amount.

While the risk of harm based on inaccurate measurement of liquid medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen is likely very small, according to authors of a study published earlier this year in the Annals of Internal Medicine which also analyzed spoon measurements, repeated instances of incorrect dosing can potentially add up to cause harm. In that study, researchers at Cornell University asked participants to pour out consistent doses of liquid medication into spoons of different sizes. They found that, with larger spoons, they routinely poured out too much medicine — as much as 12% more than was indicated.

As study author Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell and director of its food and brand lab, told TIME in January when the study came out:

“Twelve percent may not sound like a lot… But this goes on every four to eight hours for up to four days. So it really adds up to the point of ineffectiveness or even danger.”

To avoid giving inaccurate doses, researchers recommend skipping the silverware drawer and instead using syringes, or calibrated spoons and measurement cups and that normally come with the medication.