Finally! A study of the survival of an open box of chocolates on a hospital ward

Anyone who has worked in a hospital knows that there are a lot of treats around. These include cakes, cookies, and — most prized — boxes of candy, usually chocolates. Most of these are brought in by appreciative patients’ families and, in my experience, are always intended to be shared among the staff. The contents disappear quickly. A fun little paper in the British Medical Journal entitled “The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards” examines how fast they go.

The authors worked at three different hospitals in the United Kingdom. They placed two unopened boxes of chocolates (without revealing their origin) in each of four different patient care wards. They then kept these boxes “under continuous covert surveillance” to see what happened. They used two common UK brands — one by Cadbury and another by Nestle. The tongue-in-cheek use of clinical study language is probably the most fun part of the whole thing.

The median survival time of a chocolate was 51 minutes (39 to 63). The model of chocolate consumption was non-linear, with an initial rapid rate of consumption that slowed with time. An exponential decay model best fitted these findings (model R2=0.844, P<0.001), with a survival half life (time taken for 50% of the chocolates to be eaten) of 99 minutes. The mean time taken to open a box of chocolates from first appearance on the ward was 12 minutes (95% confidence interval 0 to 24). . . . The highest percentages of chocolates were consumed by healthcare assistants (28%) and nurses (28%), followed by doctors (15%).

These findings are in accord with my own experience. Nurses and heathcare assistants get the first bites owing to their increased access opportunities. Passing doctors, if they are lucky enough to be there when the box is opened, may get first crack, but generally they rank further back.

I wasn’t familiar with the chocolate brands and if the contents were the same, but I’d add my own observations on what disappears first from a mixed box. The caramels always go first, followed by anything crunchy. Those cream filled items, especially if the filling is fruity, are the last to go — they can languish for hours. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell what’s inside an individual chocolate. I’ve actually turned over a prospective candidate chocolate to find that the bottom has been pierced with a needle by an ingenious person to see what the filling was, then replaced because the findings were apparently unsatisfactory.

Also in my experience, hospital workers whose job entails covering several units or wards (such as respiratory therapists) often have acute antennae for detecting an open box of chocolates and make multiple passes through those particular areas, nipping one with each pass. Also in my experience, dieticians rarely partake. That is to be expected, I suppose.