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The Science of Chocolate: How Long Does it Survive in Hospital Wards?

By Roberta Attanasio

The prestigious British Medical Journal is giving the best Christmas present ever to its readers: food for thought. The food is chocolate, the thought (or concern) is chocolate survival.

A new research article published just a few days ago and entitled “The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards: covert observational study” presents the result of a study aimed “To quantify the consumption of chocolates in a hospital ward environment.” In other words, the study aimed to answer the following research question: How long does chocolate survive after being identified by healthcare assistants, nurses, and doctors?

Photo Credit: frank wouters from antwerpen, belgium, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

To answer this research question, observers — doctors familiar with the ward in which testing was being carried out — covertly placed boxes of chocolates at multiple locations (main nursing or reception area of four wards across three United Kingdom sites.)

The boxes were kept under continuous covert surveillance and the observers covertly recorded at what time each box was opened, and at what time individual chocolates were taken from each box and eaten.

The observers did not discuss the chocolates with ward staff, nor were they on active patient care duties during the observation periods

The researchers found that:

  • The survival time of chocolate is short (under an hour)
  • The initial rate of chocolate consumption from a box is rapid but slows with time
  • An exponential decay model best fitted this trend
  • Taken as whole groups, the highest percentages of chocolates were consumed by healthcare assistants and nurses, followed by doctors
  • Importantly, no adverse effects occurred

For this study, no identifiable data were collected. No prior consent from participants was sought, as the researchers feared that obtaining consent would bias the study significantly.

In the article footnotes, it is stated that the observers would like to apologize to anyone who received a less than truthful answer to the question: “What are you doing here?”


  • alex.f

    we need more of these; let’s learn from these doctors and from the British Medical Journal how to make things more enjoyable; the real attractiveness of this Christmas present is that it comes from the scientific community, for once, and I hope it will be an example for everyone to become more joyful

    • mgnd88

      Where does the funding for the study come from? I guess the doctors that did it funded things themselves, even the boxes of chocolates. I can just imagine how much fun they had while doing this, and how much more they had when the paper was published!

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