Back in March, we told you about the "cinnamon challenge" — a game of dubious origin that involves eating a tablespoon of cinnamon powder without any liquid to wash it down. Experts at the nation's network of poison centers were warning parents about the game after the number of calls related to teens ages 13 to 19 increased dramatically from 2011. Their symptoms included choking, gagging, vomiting and other respiratory problems.
Now Christina Hantsch, a toxicologist at Loyola University Health System in Chicago, has sounded a similar alarm after recently treating a dozen 9-year-olds in the emergency room for cinnamon exposure.
"We're now seeing this risky behavior in younger kids," Hantsch tells Shots. "If you ask any of them, they'll tell you they learned about it on the Internet or from older children. They may not have as much capacity to realize the risk of what they're doing, so that makes it more concerning."
But the cinnamon challenge isn't the only food game spreading through the Internet that's risky for kids: Hantsch cites two recent cases where kids showed up in the ER after attempting a "chubby bunny," a stunt that involves stuffing marshmallows into the mouth and trying to say the words "chubby bunny."
The game is dangerous because the sticky marshmallow "may create a larger mass that can obstruct the airway," says Hantsch.
A quick look online reveals dozens of videos featuring so-called YouTube stars like GloZell and ReactionResponseKING attempting food dares — from the cinnamon challenge to chubby bunny to eating baking soda and vinegar. Some have been viewed millions of times. GloZell says on her Twitter page that she "almost died doing the Cinnamon Challenge."
Hantsch says she's worried that kids may be more tempted to try these games over the holidays, when they're away from the structured environment of school. "Many parents aren't even aware of some of these things, so they need to be able to talk to kids proactively," she says.