Halloween candy causes fright for chubby Americans
Posted: Wednesday, October 8, 2008 9:11 pm
By LISA A. FLAM
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — It wasn’t the gruesome costumes or gory masks turning up at Lisa Bruno’s front door that spooked her on Halloween. It was the pudge lurking beneath the costumes.
“The kids were just so huge,” Bruno says.
So five years ago, she was scared into changing her holiday handouts, giving out toys instead of candy. Other households do the same, offering stickers, pencils, Play-Doh or glow sticks, to mixed reviews from candy-loving children.
“I thought, here I am trying to take care of my health,” says Bruno, of Des Plaines, Ill. “I felt a responsibility to my community to take care of the kids around me.”
Still, there’s no doubt that come Halloween, millions of princesses, sports stars and other costumed children will scamper from house to house, dropping fistfuls of candy into their plastic pumpkins and pillowcases and trying to shed those wrappers faster than they can yell “Boo!”
Despite the heightened awareness of health and nutrition, the fact remains that children (and adults) are tempted with sweets at almost every corner even without a holiday devoted to sugar. About 30 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese.
As the average amount expected to be spent on Halloween candy is rising — to $20.39 per person, according to the National Retail Federation — some parents are finding creative ways to keep their children from gobbling it all in one stomachache of a night.
Halloween is the one night when Jennifer Taggart’s 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter get to eat whatever treats they want. Then they decide what’s going to be left for the “switch witch,” who comes at night like the tooth fairy and takes the children’s candy, leaving toys in her wake.
“The more candy they put out, the bigger the toy,” says Taggart, of Los Angeles. “So far, my son has put out all of his candy every Halloween to get the biggest toy.”
The candy goes to Taggart’s office, so there’s no risk of her or her husband eating it, or the children finding it. “It’s just way too much sugar,” Taggart says.
Another tactic has parents buying back the candy for money or books.
After her children enjoy some candy while trick or treating, Julie Schoerke of Nashville buys back as much of it as she can, offering a nickel for each piece of candy they like but don’t love, and a dime for each piece of something they love.
“They could decide how much to keep,” says Schoerke, whose children are 12 and 15. “Both would rather have the money, so they kept very little candy.
“I didn’t want them to have as much candy as they would get,” she said. “They got huge amounts, and I knew they’d consume it until it was gone.”
Rationing is also an effective method. “If I’d let them, they’d have a free-for-all,” says Shannon Nelson, of Lake Ariel, Pa., who gives a piece a day to each of her four boys. “They’ve understood the boundaries and limits, so when I place them, they don’t argue with it.”
A one-night candy splurge won’t make a child fat, and doctors and nutritionists say that everybody can enjoy a little Halloween candy in moderation, regardless of their weight.
But experts do suggest turning the night into a teaching moment about portion size and limits, lessons can that can be reinforced all year.
“It’s important that we as parents help them find the balance between that very traditional fun activity and a healthy lifestyle,” says Connie Diekman, past president of the American Dietetic Association.
The government’s food pyramid allows about 10 percent of the day’s calories for most children to come from extras, which includes candy, Diekman says. “That’s going to allow every child to have some candy on a daily basis, and it really is OK,” she said.
To make that work, it might mean that dessert gets taken out of the lunchbox on Halloween to make room for a nighttime candy splurge.
Telling children they can’t have any candy will probably backfire.
“Some families say no, they don’t allow it, and some families have no restrictions and it’s a free-for-all,” says Dr. Sarah Armstrong, a childhood obesity expert at Duke Children’s Hospital. “Both are equally poor approaches.”
She suggests families offer candy and nonedible treats, to allow children who come to their own doors to make the choice.
Some children like the alternatives because they have something to play with that lasts beyond Halloween night. But for others, candy is still king.
“They’re after candy,” said April Callis, of East Lansing, Mich., of her girls, ages 7, 12 and 14. “They’re not really interested in sunflower seed coupons.”
Tips to stop sugar overload
By The Associated Press
Here are some ways that parents can get a handle on Halloween so children feel neither deprived, nor sick to their stomachs:
• Decide with children, before Halloween, on what is a reasonable amount of candy to eat that night, and beyond. Will the candy be packaged in small bags to make the holiday last longer, rationed to a piece or two a day, donated or thrown away?
• Feed children dinner before trick or treating so they will not be ravenous and want to fill up on candy while going from house to house.
• Go out early, when candy-givers are less likely to encourage children to grab a handful of candy so they don’t end up stuck with it.
• Do not ban candy or ditch it when the children aren’t looking; it may just make them want it more.
• Parents should be good role models by not eating all the candy themselves.
• Let children enjoy some sweets on the holiday while focusing on good nutrition the rest of the year.
• Offer candy alternatives alone, or alongside candy, to give trick or treaters a choice.
• Take some emphasis off candy by focusing on the fun of the holiday, like checking out the costumes and decorated houses.
• Walk, don’t drive, if possible, to get some physical activity in while candy collecting.
• Suggest children wait to eat candy until they get home, where parents can inspect the wrappers to ensure they’re tightly sealed. Parents should consider throwing out everything else.
Published in The Messenger 10.08.08