Halloween Health

It’s about the time for our annual frightfest – darkness will soon settle over us. Wails and shrieks will fill the air (and that’s just the moms wrestling kids into costumes). Here is a short checklist of practical healthy Halloween tips:

1) Visibility. This one’s a trick-y (ahem) subject with, oddly enough, older kids. Young ones, of course, need reflector tape or glow-in-the-dark necklaces, etc. But the young kiddies will often docilely go along with the safety steps – then your major job is just to keep a grip on that sticky little sweaty hand all night as you wander dark streets with them. It’s the teens and pre-teens who are (sigh) image-conscious, opinionated, likely to go out less supervised – and definitely more able to dash off in the darkness alone. It’s a struggle, but try to rope them into helping with the visibility issue – can you spring for “matching” glow-in-the-dark items for all their crowd? Maybe you could try to sell it as a way for them to all find/keep track of each other. Is it possible to work a reflector tape into the theme of their costume? Can you talk them into carrying a flashlight, despite the fact that you know it might be used as a waving erratic beacon or an in-your-face source of irritation? Brace yourself for the eye-rolls and huffy breaths and then go ahead and give the talk about keeping alert to avoid getting hit in the dark. Often some stuff sticks despite all physical signs to the contrary.

2) Contamination. Melamine is the horror-flick title for this year’s Halloween terrors. The two culprits that are in the news are White Rabbit candies and net-bags of gold-foil wrapped chocolate pirate coins (these links were chosen because they have photos of the products). In general, I’d have a low threshold for tossing any candy that looks like it could be made in China or imported from a less-regulated country. Which brings us to…

3) Haul. How the heck do you manage the massive Halloween haul of unhealthy candy? While there are a lot of opinions, there doesn’t seem to be very much research on this topic – putting “halloween candy” into Pubmed will get you an article about “halloween diarrhea – an unexpected consequence of sorbitol-containing candy,” several articles about the futility of X-raying candy for nervous parents, and one good article that shows that kids are equally likely to choose a toy or a candy if offered a choice – regardless of age (up to 14) or gender. So what are the general “expert” rules of thumb? Keeping a neutral response, and having a disposal plan beforehand, are key. Letting the stuff get munched on for months is not a good approach. But what no one wants is to transmit to your child the idea of hoarding treats. Let them go at it. And then have a toss date. Keeping the junk in the freezer is only a way to set yourself up for future battles (and if it’s in my house, I’ll eat it!). Some friends of mine just toss the stuff while the kids are at school. We tried the “candy fairy” at our house during the 4-7 year-old stages, where voluntarily giving up what was left got you a small (non-edible) treat (like a very small stuffed animal or a tiny-boxed Lego set). I wasn’t completely happy with that message, however. As my kids got older, they really liked giving me their leftover candy (and even recruiting more from their friends at school) to take to the homeless clinic for patients. The only thing I know for sure is that everyone likes a little treat now and then, and perceived deprivation often leads to a vicious cycle of binge-guilt, which can have more negative long-term body-image/weight issues than the candy itself. Do you have post-Halloween-haul tips? Share them in the comments section below.

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