4 Ways to Have a Healthier Halloween

Rates of childhood obesity have skyrocketed in recent years, and added sugar consumption has been a major cause. There are ways to minimize the effects of the potential sugar explosion that has recently come to characterize Halloween.

1
Reconsider the Candy Option

Children enjoying treats on steps
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Who says that “treats” have to be full of added sugar? Who says they even have to be edible? As it turns out, the “tradition” of giving out candy for Halloween is a relatively recent one, encouraged by the food industry and—you guessed it—the makers of all that candy.

But a treat can take many forms. Consider giving out small toys, stickers, or items such as Halloween-themed pencils and erasers instead. I have found several neat little Halloween toys for sale at major retailers, including glow-in-the-dark bats, glow-in-the-dark aliens, small toy skeletons that stretch when pulled, vampire fangs for sale in bulk, multicolored spiders, and much more. The number of sticker options available these days is stunning—including stickers with texture, stickers with glitter, stickers with “googly eyes,” and stickers that even glow in the dark.

These non-candy treats often cost even less than their candy alternatives. They last longer—and most importantly, they do not contribute to the ongoing crisis of childhood obesity.

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2
Walk Around Your Neighborhood

Children wearing fancy dress
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Make it a point to do Halloween the "old-fashioned way,” by walking your children from door to door rather than driving. The extra steps will be good for everyone, and if your chosen neighborhood is particularly large, you might get or even exceed your daily recommended minimum for physical activity!

If you do not feel that your neighborhood is safe enough at night, try to go trick-or-treating earlier, before sunset, or consider driving to a safer neighborhood where you can then park and walk around.

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3
Ration Sweet Treats

Caucasian mother and daughter making caramel apples
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If your child does bring home a bag full of candy, be sure you don’t let him or her eat it all at once. Let your child have one or two pieces at most, and then work hard to spread this out over the next few weeks. You may even decide in advance that he or she can choose her top five or ten favorite pieces of candy, spread those out over two weeks or more, and get rid of the rest. This also helps to re-emphasize the lesson that candy is a "sometime food."

Whatever you decide, be sure your child knows of your decision ahead of time, so he or she won’t be surprised or disappointed. The discussion regarding this decision can be a useful time to educate your child about the dangers of too much sugar (for instance, “it makes you sick,”) and about what better, more nutritious alternatives (such as whole fruits) are available—and why they are better options (for instance, “fruits and vegetables make you strong”).

4
Get the Leftover Candy Out of the House!

halloween party spread
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As noted above, once you and your child have decided on the few pieces of candy to keep, get the rest out of the house.

Keep in mind that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that the intake of added sugar for adults not exceed 6 teaspoons (approximately 24 g) daily for women and 9 teaspoons (approximately 36 g) daily for men. If you have chosen to ignore Step #1 above and give out candy yourself to trick-or-treaters, get any of those leftovers out of the house, too, lest you continue to snack on them year-round (not unheard of, right?) and blow your own ​daily sugar max!

Sources:

Litwin SE. Childhood obesity and adulthood cardiovascular disease: quantifying the lifetime cumulative burden of cardiovascular risk factors. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014;64:1588

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