Junkfood Science: Happy Trick-or-Treating!

October 31, 2007

Happy Trick-or-Treating!

Predictably, the alarm bells began weeks ago, as sugar-fearing writers began advising parents to “just say no to Halloween candy” and for everyone else to play a trick on the kids that come to their doors.

One author actually wrote:

Halloween frightens me. Not because of ghosts, goblins or ghouls — or even the costumed monsters, witches and pirates. What’s spooky about the holiday is that it’s a mandatory “Sugar Overload Day.” I’m dismayed that, despite soaring rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes among kids, on Halloween, it’s an accepted tradition to send your and your neighbors’ kids into sugar shock.

The “healthy Halloween” movement has been warning that Halloween is no excuse for allowing an indulgence and that anything with sugar would send blood sugars soaring and contribute to child obesity. [Clearly these are not JFS readers.] Instead, they’ve been recommending everyone give kids things like sunflower seeds, cheese, bottles of water (“trick or treaters need to stay hydrated”), glow-in-dark insects, stickers, pencils, key chains, pens, whistles, notebooks, pencils and crayons.

These are adults who have definitely forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. While a bottle of water may not get quite the same reaction as Charlie Brown who got a rock at each house in the 1966 Great Pumpkin Halloween special, the let down may feel pretty close to kids who’ve looked forward to their candy hauls all year.

There are few exceptions that sound almost sad. One elementary school child was quoted as saying she would prefer to get a pencil because candy could give her “a tummy ache...and it’s bad for your teeth.”

But most kids needn’t worry that Halloween is nearing extinction. The National Retailers Federation says that at least three-quarters of households have stocked up on $20 worth of candy to dole out tonight. One grown-up, Emma Curran, wrote a sweet piece in the Retriever Weekly celebrating the “free candy for everyone” meaning of Halloween, arguing:

You’re never tool old to trick-or-treat

...I have a major philosophical problem with losing Halloween. I already feel way too old most of the time, weighed down by the responsibilities of age. Halloween is a chance to forget all that and be a kid again.... It would be nice to have one night a year when I can act like a total child and run around collecting free candy. Halloween is a day of no shame, when you can dress like anything you want and not feel humiliated, just like a kid.

The last reason trick-or-treating is so great is because it is like a get out of jail free card. I can eat all the candy I want without guilt, because Halloween is like Vegas. What happens in the Halloween universe stays in the Halloween universe....It's unlike any other day of the year, and if we lose it, we will be losing something more than just a plastic jack-o-lantern filled with candy.

And David Curran, wrote one of the funniest Halloween commentaries in SFGate.com with advice for other parents:

It's Halloween-candy meltdown time

After a few days of waiting for my newsletter from the Society of Neurotic, Concerned and Overinvolved Parents, it was time to take action. The hours were ticking by and I was becoming a little desperate to find out how people tackle that singular crisis that arrives every October 31: How to deal with all the Halloween candy the kids bring home....So I head over to the local schoolyard, where my daughter's in third grade, for some sage advice. People appear remarkably calm considering the severity of the approaching day. I spot one dad, Zach Supar, his arms folded in this super laid-back manner as though it's Groundhog Day that's just around the corner. He simply laughs off the notion of some kind of Halloween candy rules: “Nah, I don't have a policy. I just let 'em eat all they want."...

Standing over by the tetherball court, Lori Saaf speaks from the other side of the candy spectrum: “I throw it all out. Except they get about two pieces a day for a few days from what neighbors give them."... The children get all dressed up, go door to door, they gather all these treats, and then they come home, only to hear, “Wasn't that fun? Now give your candy bag to me and I'm going to toss it into the garbage." ... Bye bye, Baby Ruth. Sayonara, Snickers. Nice knowin' ya, Nerds....

But extremes are sometimes made to be forgotten. Karen Nierlich recalls, “I used to be pretty controlling about the whole thing. But then I figured no one ever controlled what I ate and I turned out OK." She goes on to explain -- with, I believe, a full set of teeth that doesn't get placed in a cup at night -- that “on the scale of battles you want to fight, this one's pretty low on the list." While we may have to check back and see how Karen feels about her kids having Skittles for breakfast for the next month, she does represent a number of parents who let their kids go hog wild, at least for Halloween night....

If all this sounds like too much management, just forget it. Hark back to the days when Mom and/or Dad read the paper, sipped a martini and didn't give a fig that the youngsters had 18 pounds of chocolate and were bouncing off the ceiling until sometime in mid-January.... As Henry Weller, 10, in Connecticut puts it, on Halloween “you get all this candy, and it's FREE!" That's not an easy battle for any parent to win. So, if you can't beat 'em you might as well snag a few Snickers and join 'em.

There’s no evidence to fear the sugar or the fun. And to help ensure a safe Halloween for everyone, common sense safety tips are just a click away at Keep Kids Healthy.

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