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Though Halloween is still 10 days away, the stores have been full of Halloween Candy since late August and it seems to start earlier every year.
Where are you on Halloween candy for kids? Is it really that harmful? As a fairly new “whole food plant based eater” and one year into being sugar-free, at age 60 I’ve got it figured out for myself (Whew! What a relief and a joy!) but in all honesty, I’m glad I don’t have young children to work through on this. Would I be insisting on no sugar and fruit-filled parties? Throwing away what they collected as some of their friends’ parents did even as it was brought into the house on Halloween night? In looking back, for all five of our children it was the sport of dressing up, being with their friends and the collecting the candy that was the real treat for them. So is it really that big a deal to let them celebrate the candy-fest? For “just one night?”
The only problem with thinking that Halloween is “only one night” is that, according to Christina Le Beau, the mother of 9-year old Tess and mommy blogger at Spoonfedblog.net” is “Halloween is not just one day a year. It’s class parties and community events and then the winter holidays and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthday parties and swimming class and soccer games and the bank and the shoe store and restaurants with kid menus …. and anyplace else kids set foot, including, of course, school. The sugar culture is so strong, the highly processed foodstuffs so epidemic, that we no longer have the luxury of viewing these things in isolation. So, it’s not just a few Halloween treats or one blue cupcake. It’s a crushing pile of chemical-laden pseudo food.”
To her thoughts I add that Halloween is rarely limited to just October 31, but includes several other Church, neighborhood and school activities where candy plays the starring role.
Another whole food plant based mommy blogger, Lisa Leake (who passes out glow sticks instead of candy) says: “I have no problem with my children OD’ing on whatever candy they want on Halloween night – and that’s actually what they do – with no limits or constraints from me. But then we actually live up to Halloween being “just one night” and get rid of what’s left (with the exception of maybe 5 or so pieces for “later”). (I’ve included her link below – it’s terrific for those getting started on whole food plant based eating for families.)
Beyond the mommy-bloggers, I went online and found Dr. Mark Burhenne, a California family dentist who reports to CNN, It’s possible to let your children trick-or-treat and still set up healthy habits regarding candy.” He says:
Every Halloween, I get the same questions from parents –“Should I let my kids have candy?” “How much candy is safe?” And a question not necessarily tied to Halloween: “How can I raise my kids with healthy habits but also without making them feeling deprived?”
The answer isn’t simple. All the focus is on the candy we eat once a year at Halloween when we eat even worse foods all year long. My opinion as a dentist has evolved over the last 25 years, and it continues to evolve as I learn from my patients and from my own children.
To begin to answer this question, we first need to understand: How bad is candy, really?
The effects of candy on our children are twofold. There are biological effects that we all know about, such as the adage “candy rots your teeth,” but there are also psychological effects of binging on all that well-marketed candy.
The effect candy has on your kids’ teeth
The increased consumption of sugar in our culture is linked to diabetes and obesity. Consider:
• Sugar is changing our children’s taste buds. By exposing our kids to sugar-laden foods, we are corrupting their taste for the sweetness in fresh fruit and “superfeeding” the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
• “Just this once” actually has a lasting effect. So what’s the big deal if your children binge on candy just once a year? That one binge may lead to an altered taste sensitivity, which can lead to cravings for other things. Those things might include soda, which we know is linked to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and other health issues.
Sugar addiction has also been shown to activate the same parts of the brain as cocaine addiction. Would we let our children have cocaine “just once” each year? In this way, Halloween candy may be a gateway to serious systemic diseases.
• Candy plays a role in your children’s future dental health. The effects of candy have compounding ramifications as children get older. The more tooth damage that occurs, the earlier people have issues with their teeth as adults in terms of crowns, root canals, extractions or implants — or all of the above.
By delaying damage during childhood and the adolescent years, you bypass a crucial and vulnerable time in life. Children are more vulnerable to the effects of candy than adults because they often aren’t aware of the ramifications (such as a $1,400 root canal that comes later in life), and they don’t brush, floss and take other actions to negate the effects of bad decisions. The exposure your children have to candy and the habits they form will determine their dental future.
Beyond the teeth
Perhaps just as concerning as the damage to the teeth are the psychological effects of all this candy.
• It’s an unhealthy message. All year long, we tell our children, “Don’t take candy from strangers.” But isn’t Halloween asking them to do just that, making an exception? What if that confusing and conflicting message were to jeopardize a child’s safety one day?
• Halloween doesn’t teach moderation. The binge culture that Halloween promotes might be just as damaging as the sugar itself. The name of the Halloween game is, how much candy can you get in your bag before midnight? Or worse — how much can you eat in one sitting? Candy is no longer a treat for Saturdays from the candy shop — it now comes in big bags from warehouse stores.
It’s all about quantity, rather than an infrequent treat that is savored. Grandma was right when she said “everything in moderation.” Those who live the longest, healthiest lives cite moderation as key to their longevity.
• Selling and marketing food to children is big business. The food industry spends nearly $2 billion dollars annually to market and advertise food to children and adolescents. Children are vulnerable to messages from their favorite television character who is endorsing a candy.
So, how bad is candy? You’ll have to make the decision for yourself and for your family, but the important issue is that we’re aware of the physical and psychological costs of candy and can make an educated decision about it.
So, are you a bad parent if you let your children eat Halloween candy? I’d encourage you to ask a different question: Am I empowering my children with healthy habits and knowledge before they go trick-or-treating this Halloween? Am I an enabler to all the candy madness, or am I modeling healthy habits and moderation?
One of the responsibilities of parenthood is educating our children and setting them up with healthy habits that they’ll carry through to adulthood and even on to the next generation. We likely aren’t going to bar our children from going trick-or-treating, but modeling and teaching them what happens afterward is what will determine their habits around candy for life.
If you can answer yes to all those questions, then you and your children are in the clear. Healthy habits are the real treat. (Source: Dr. Mark Burhenne,special to CNN on 10/13/2013.)
To carry this whole conversation one step further, what are some healthier options for giving children this Halloween? It’s all in the imagination and a little research to find others that have solved the problem for us! I’ve included links below to two great websites that will provide more ideas than you know what to do with!
To conclude, my thoughts as a mother, grandmother and Primary chorister are drawn to the many beautiful pictures of the Savior with children gathered around him. What would he be passing out as a treat to his little ones? And what would he be delighted about us offering to them?
Resources and Snacks
64 Super Cute and Non-Candy Halloween snack ideas
Christine Le Beau
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available at her website.
She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups.
She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of eight. They live in the Washington D.C. area where she is the Primary chorister and they team-teach Missionary Preparation for the Annandale Stake CES Institute program.