ZEITGUIDE TO A HEALTHIER HALLOWEEN
For parents and teachers, the scariest Halloween activity isn’t the haunted house or the horror movie marathon. It’s wrangling kids excited to get their hands on pounds of candy.
Fears about letting kids overindulge in treats may be justified by the national state of childhood health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) is obese—more than triple that of the same age grouping in the 1970s.
For a mix of reasons, diet being only one, an increasing number of schools are eliminating candy or Halloween celebrations outright. On the trick-or-treating trail in recent years, you may also have noticed less Kit Kats and Jolly Ranchers and more fruit leather (far more appetizing than the name implies) and raisins.
Despite such good intentions, total prohibition may not be the best way to develop healthy eating habits in kids. One study in the Netherlandsshowed that children who were told they could not have sweets craved those restricted foods more, and ate more of them when given the opportunity. Another study from Penn State found that restrictive diets for girls promoted eating in the absence of hunger.
So … moderation in candy, as in all things? Is that what this comes down to? For kids, that might mean one or two pieces of candy from the Halloween stash each night after dinner. (Another parental challenge: holding themselves to the same limit.)
Overall, parents today are adopting healthier approaches to their kids’ diet. Among millennial moms, 71% say they deliberately choose foods they think are healthier, and 37% opt for organic products. Sales of carbonated soft drinks have been in decline for over a decade, with Americans now buying more bottled water than pop.
Food brands are getting the healthier kids message, too as their sales decline. One analysis by Moskow found that between 2009 and 2014, the top 25 U.S. food and beverage companies lost the equivalent of $18 billion in market share. To compete with upstart natural food brands, Dannon cut the sugar content in its yogurt and Kraft replaced artificial coloring and preservatives with more natural alternatives.
Thanks to parents’ insistence on better choices for what their children eat, we might hope to see a reversal in childhood obesity. Data from the CDC also suggests that obesity rates may have plateaued, and even seen small declines among pre-school aged children.
Improving food choices for kids the other 364 days of the year could take some of the anxiety out of picking Halloween trick-or-treat items—so long as yours isn’t the house giving out raisins.