The cinnamon challenge: Why do people do stupid things?

The question is whether the medical community and mainstream media outlets will be able to reach the teenagers who feel compelled to stuff teaspoons of cinnamon down their throats.

Dejah Reed, an Ypsilanti, Mich., teen who was hospitalized for a collapsed lung after trying the cinnamon challenge.

Dejah Reed, an Ypsilanti, Mich., teen who was hospitalized for a collapsed lung after trying the cinnamon challenge.

Doctors say it’s important. Cinnamon, taken in such quantities, could cause permanent lung damage. This is because people who try this stunt tend to gag immediately, then inhale. The combination of cinnamon’s caustic chemicals and undigestible cellulose matrix makes it particularly dangerous. If it ends up in the lungs, it won’t be expelled naturally.

A new report in the journal Pediatrics says poison centers answered 222 calls in 2012 related to the so-called “cinnamon challenge,” which involves eating a teaspoon of the spice and going 60 seconds without any water.

In 2011, only 51 such calls were fielded. More importantly, some teenagers are suffering collapsed lungs or ending up on ventilators.

You have to hand it to the medical community. They are reacting quickly to this one, even though 222 calls in a year doesn’t seem like a lot. Look on Youtube, though, and you will find literally thousands of videos of people taking this challenge. I have included one example below.

Only 222 people were distressed enough to call a poison center, but many more kids are trying the stunt, putting themselves in danger.


Maybe Dejah Reed has the answer to that one. NBC quoted her as saying she, “thought it would be cool” to try.

She had seen it on Youtube. Now she has long-term breathing problems that may never go away.

Human beings sometimes do stupid things as teenagers. This isn’t because they’re stupid, necessarily. It’s because they haven’t yet developed the judgment skills needed to make intelligent decisions independent of peer pressure. Many of them think they’re invincible. They lack the judgment to avoid risky dares or challenges.

Eating cinnamon is just a little easier to understand than binge drinking. Some youths consume such vast amounts of alcohol in a short period of time that they literally drink themselves to death. An Associated Press’ analysis of federal records a few years ago found 157 college-age people who died of alcohol poisoning between 1999 and 2005.
The dangers associated with too much alcohol are generally known. So are the dangers associated with tobacco smoke. Cinnamon is something else, however. You can’t really expect kids to understand the dangers involved there.

Studies have shown the human brain isn’t through developing until the age of 21, or even older in some cases (I know some people in middle age who never seem to have arrived).
Knowing this, it’s amazing most of the human race survives past those ages.

No, a lot of teens aren’t likely to read this or any of the other reports about the cinnamon challenge. But they will know if the adults in their lives pass on the warnings and make them watch the videos. I’ve included a report from the Today Show and a typical Youtube video of the challenge below.

Related story: Popular ‘Cinnamon Challenge’ on YouTube sends teens to hospitals

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About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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