About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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When a teaspoon is not a teaspoon

It's all relativeA study published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that size matters when using a kitchen spoon to measure liquid medicine.

The Cornell University authors, Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum, enlisted the help of 195 college students who were recent patients at the university health clinic. The researchers asked the students to measure liquid cold medicine into kitchen spoons. The students thought they were participating in a study about cold remedies.

The students were told to pour exactly one teaspoon of medicine, 5 ml., into a teaspoon, a tablespoon and a larger kitchen spoon. What happened is that the students poured less than a teaspoon when using smaller spoons and more than a teaspoon when using larger ones. The dosing error was small: about 8 percent less when pouring into small spoons, and 12 percent more when using larger spoons. Yet, the error would be compounded if you took the medicine four times a day.

The authors’advice was to always use a dosing spoon, syringe, cap or dropper. Our ability to estimate is probably not as good as we think it is.