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Following along with the recent history of obesity suppression efforts in the United Kingdom, last fall activist chef Jamie Oliver sponsored a petition meant to convince the government to tax sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). He pointed out that such a tax could bring in £1 billion per year, which, if used properly, could make a slight dent in the nation’s annual £9 billion expenditure on treating people with diabetes.
Though Oliver’s petition gathered more than 140,000 signatures, it failed to sway the government, which didn’t act. Foodingredientsfirst.com wrote that many Brits were dismayed by the failure of similar tax measures in other countries.
Sirpa Sarlio-Lähteenkorva, of Finland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, wrote in the British Medical Journal:
When some foods become more expensive consumers tend to look for cheaper substitutes. These cross elastics of demand need to be considered carefully when planning food taxes. It has been suggested that to influence consumption the price increase has to be at least 20%…
The potential for improved health is greatest when combined with incentives for choosing healthier foods.
One incentive for making more healthful choices is to not have junk food shoved into one’s line of vision all day long. The retail chain Morrisons announced that it would change the environment of its checkout lines to only hold fruit and nut snacks rather than candy. Readers will recall that Morrisons has already been doing this for one-fifth of its checkout lines, and, apparently, harassed parents let their appreciation be known.
Their move to junk-free checkouts was scheduled to be completed by February of 2016. However, as of March, the British press was still referring to “a pledge from Morrisons.”
In October of last year, Public Health England (an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health) issued a 48-page report titled “Sugar Reduction — The Evidence for Action.” It covers the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s (SACN) “Carbohydrates and Health” report, the potential cost savings that the government’s health budget would experience if SACN’s recommendations were followed, and programs called Change4Life, 5 A Day, and Eatwell.
Also in October, health secretary Jeremy Hunt was criticized for refusing to disclose the results of a scientific review of the sugar tax issue. Hunt said the report would be published later in the year, but segments of the public resented the fact that he had already been dragging his feet since previous July.
Meanwhile, the National Health Service maintained that SSBs and junk food kill 53,000 of the Queen’s subjects each year and cost the equivalent of nearly $8 billion. The British Medical Association was still holding onto the demand for a 20% tax on fizzy drinks, and the Coca-Cola Company was discovered to be funding quite a lot of supposedly neutral scientific research.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “British Government Rules Out Tax on Sugary Drinks, Despite 100,000-Strong Petition,” FoodIngredientsFirst.com, 09/23/15
Source: “UK: It’s time for govt to wake up to ‘obesity time bomb’, expert warns,” FreshFruitPortal.com, 09/29/15
Source: “Sugar Reduction — The Evidence for Action,” gov.uk, October 2015
Source: “Too Sweet to Handle: UK Health Minister Sugarcoating UK Obesity Crisis,” SputnikNews.com, 10/12/15
Photo credit: Ruth Hartnup via Visualhunt/CC BY
Childhood Obesity News has been looking back over the recent history of the United Kingdom. Last summer, the National Health Service announced that one in every 34 urgent care admissions was due to overweight or obesity. This includes people coming to the emergency room for chest pains, heart attacks, arthritis, and sleep problems, and adds up to an estimated £30 billion ( $36 billion) per year, spread out over 530,000 medical cases. Then, just to put the icing on the cake, the report added that the number had doubled in only four years.
Obviously, for such exponential growth to continue would be catastrophic. Already, fat-related ailments use up to one-third of the NHS budget. The Sun quoted plain-spoken Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum (who also chairs the Child Growth Foundation) said:
This is proof fat people are clogging up the NHS and ruining its finances. Treating obese patients comes with a heavy price tag the Health Service can no longer afford.
Last summer, at the urging of the National Obesity Forum (Tam Fry again), Britain’s huge retail chain Marks & Spencer eliminated candy from shelves adjacent to the checkout line, which can help customers by removing the “impulse buy” temptation, and especially help parents by removing the “pester power” factor — the opportunity for kids to plead and whine while their parents wait to pay for their groceries.
Admirable as the gesture sounds, several other corporate retail outlets had already seized the initiative and made that sacrifice more than a year earlier. A chain called Morrisons took a step in the correct direction by removing candy from one-fifth of its checkout lines, so the customer would at least have a choice of which type to queue up in.
In the same month, journalist Lizzie Parry wrote:
Around one in seven Scottish children aged between two and 15 are classed as obese. Last year more than 3,500 primary one pupils were found to be clinically or severely obese when they started school — up almost 400 on the previous year.
As always, Tam Fry was asked for a comment, and said he found the numbers shameful but unsurprising.
In Scotland, the National Health Service’s Lothian district encompasses the city of Edinburgh and the surrounding area, which includes more than a hundred General Practice medical offices and 21 hospitals. Over the three years before the news story was written, Lothian’s pediatric weight management program had received referrals for services needed by more than 700 children.
Many specialists have given up on the idea that childhood obesity can be impacted by making schools offer more exercise and healthful dietary options. The “individual responsibility” answer is favored by the corporations that manufacture the food, so, for that reason, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. While it’s fine for adults, children often have very little scope in their lives for choices about what’s on the menu or how much active outdoor time they get.
Personal responsibility is a valid answer, but seems not to be the only answer. Edinburgh University Professor Raj Bhopal said:
Most people working in public health would agree that the answer lies in changing the wider environment. Looking at what food we grow in this country, what food we tax, what food people are choosing to buy in supermarkets, where that food is placed in the supermarket.
As so often happens, it seems to be a matter of “necessary” and “sufficient” conditions. The environment needs to be good, and the personal habits need to be good, so both are necessary to get the job done, but neither is sufficient to do it alone.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Hospital fat toll is double 4 years ago,” TheSun.co.uk, 07/20/15
Source: “Marks and Spencer are scrapping sweets at tills to help shoppers make healthier choices,” Mirror.co.uk, 07/17/15
Source: “Children as young as TWO sent to NHS ‘fat camps’ to tackle obesity crisis,” DailyMail.co.uk, 08/03/15
Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA
One of the most important things that Dr. Pretlow has learned about problem eating is that it is intended to end pain. All over the globe, people self-medicate by stuffing themselves with enormous wads of something that vaguely resembles food. Whether it is called a behavioral addiction or a bad habit, problem eating is a maladaptive response to pain, helplessly enacted by people who don’t know a better way to cope.
Many children just don’t seem to have the ability to bounce back from the inevitable disappointments and injuries of life. From the earliest development stages of his W8Loss2Go smartphone application, Dr. Pretlow has recognized that coping skills are sadly lacking. His presentation to the American Academy of Pediatrics included these words:
Self-esteem and coping skills augmentation, along with stress management techniques, peer/mentor support, and motivational tools are the necessary skills needed for recovery from food addiction and resulting obesity in children.
In describing the vicious circles that too often trap people, Dr. Pretlow notes that, when things get really bad, a person is likely to eat to cope with obesity itself. Imagine trying to solve a problem by doing the exact thing that makes the problem worse. Could a vicious circle be any more diabolical? He says a person needs to…
[…] write a plan for breaking each Vicious Circle, such as seeking comfort and stress relief from other things besides food, like pets, volunteer work, and professional counseling.
A reality of life is that not everyone can afford professional counseling, and this is where a company like Smiling Mind enters the scene. It describes mindfulness as “modern meditation” and wants to make mindfulness training available in elementary schools, where it is now being tested.
Spokesperson Dr. Richard Chambers, who is a clinical psychologist, says the benefit is that children become more focused and resilient. For a fuller sense of that second word, we consult the venerable Merriam-Webster dictionary, which describes the word “resilient” in a following way:
— able to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
— able to return to an original shape after being pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
— capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture
— tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
When something bad happens; when a person’s life or self is pulled, stretched, pressed, bent; when misfortune or change or shock occur, the result is usually pain. It might be physical, emotional, or both. In the overwhelming majority of cases, pain can be temporarily assuaged by sweet treats.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Mindfulness can be a tremendous coping skill for children and parents. The Smiling Mind literature says:
Being fully awake in each moment of life is something that everyone benefits from, and children tend to exhibit this quality quite naturally. Young children can be taught to meditate, starting with small amounts and leveraging activities that they already enjoy such as exploring new things and playing. However even better, is for parents to embody mindfulness with their kids.
The opposite of mindfulness is the sleep-like state of “operating on autopilot” which is, incidentally, when an awful lot of mindless, automatic, emotional eating is done.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “An iPhone App Intervention for Childhood Obesity, Based on the Substance Dependence (Addiction) Model,” Weigh2Rock.com
Source: “Mindfulness made easy,” KidsMatter.edu, undated
Photo credit: GollyGforce – Living My Worst Nightmare via Visualhunt/CC BY
Perhaps the single most important thing we have learned about mindfulness so far is that training in it is more useful for children than for adults, and the theory about this is that their brains still have plasticity.
A study that took place in the Netherlands concerned 24 families with children between eight and 12 years of age. Both the kids and 22 parents received eight weeks of mindfulness training. The object was to alleviate their Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
This in itself is problematic, considering that some professionals don’t even believe in ADHD but perceive it as simply “kids being kids.” A descriptive paragraph says:
Mindfulness training is an intervention based on eastern meditation techniques, that helps increasing awareness of the present moment, enhances non-judgmental observation, and reduces automatic responding.
The researchers issue a caveat regarding the subjects, all from families with high socio-economic status, and admit that further research is needed “to determine effectiveness of this treatment in a broad ADHD population and whether this approach is more appropriate for certain subgroups within the ADHD population.”
This is definitely the softest of soft sciences, with results that are not measurable by the inch or the pound, and dependent on self-reporting and on evaluation by parents and teachers who might bring a certain amount of baggage to the procedure. With regard to family dynamics, the study seems to have gotten into some pretty deep territory, leading to doubt about whether the same methods would be appropriate in, for instance, an American public-school setting.
The researchers also write:
Related to this topic, we do not know what element of treatment was most effective; the child mindfulness, the parent mindfulness or was the combination of both crucial for the effectiveness? […] Future studies should compare the effectiveness of mindful parenting, mindfulness for the child and the combination of both, to disentangle these treatment effects.
They didn’t mention this, but it has been said that in “soft science” types of interventions, a certain number of patients will always get better, under any treatment regime, just from knowing that another human being cares enough to help. So there’s that.
Five years later, a study was performed at Bangor University in Wales. A very large proportion of its report is taken up with describing the many difficulties in carrying out such a study, the unsatisfactory paucity of similar previous studies, and the numerous ideas the researchers came up with for the design of future studies.
When academics want to compare the results of research in this field, the available material is limited because each former study had subjects of different ages, or from different types of background, and, worst of all, “used a different type of mindfulness training and delivery format.” Additionally, there is very little previous research on the comparative effectiveness of having these programs delivered by the regular classroom teacher, versus someone from outside.
Another complicating X-factor is that professionals in the field have the impression that although the benefits of mindfulness training don’t always show up right away, there may be a delayed-reaction effect that definitely needs looking at, in the form of more and better followup studies.
This study in the United Kingdom also used an eight-week program, and the subjects were 71 children aged seven to nine. Educators were looking to add mindfulness training to the already established Personal and Social Education curriculum. Although no one understands exactly how or why mindfulness works, it apparently does, at least often enough to make its pursuit worthwhile.
The report explains:
Mindfulness has been defined as a mental state or trait that can be developed and nurtured. It is understood as a dynamic process involving the intentional focus of the mind’s attention on thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions, and the ability to be aware of and connect with these experiences in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness promotes the cultivation of a less automatic mode of mind, enhances awareness of internal processes and reduces reactive patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.
It also says that there have been consistent reports of “associations between enhanced socio-emotional outcomes in children and parental support,” which really should surprise no one. A very positive feature is that it has potential to improve the lives of both untroubled children and those who seem headed for problems.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training for Children with ADHD and Mindful Parenting for their Parents,” NIH.gov, 02/02/11
Source: “Mindfulness Training in Primary Schools Decreases Negative Affect and Increases Meta-Cognition in Children,” FrontiersIn.org, 01/12/16
Photo credit: Abhijit Bhaduri via Visualhunt/CC BY
Not long ago, Childhood Obesity News looked at the ideas of Dr. Sandra Aamodt, who combined the concept of the “set point” with the recommendation to practice mindfulness in eating. According to this school of thought, each person’s body forms a notion of how big it should be, and stubbornly holds onto that notion. Once the body becomes accustomed to being a certain size, the set point goes up, and subsequent efforts to reduce that size are thwarted by a crazy idea that the body has adopted about how big it should be.
The “set point” theory does explain a couple of things, like why obesity is observably harder to escape when it starts very early in life. This is why it is so important to avoid overweight right from the start. In this arena, the definition of “the start” has been pushed backward from infancy to conception, and even before. The set point theory could also account for the undeniable fact that most people who attain significant weight loss are unable to sustain it.
The two enemies
One problem with reducing diets, in this paradigm, is that the set point persuades the body to perceive any loss as harmful deprivation. Even if the body is gigantic, it is paranoid, and reads the effort to restrict calories as the first step on the road to starvation. The body’s prime directive is to survive, so its instinct for self-preservation kicks in — all based on the belief that a reduction of fuel is an existential threat. It defends that erroneous belief by sabotaging and defeating any attempt to lose weight, especially by the method we call “dieting.”
One of the body’s strategies for defending the set point is to override common sense by making it so easy for us to eat mindlessly, to binge, and to find pleasure in foods and pseudo-foods that have horrible effects on us. Parts of the body scramble or misread chemical messages from other parts, and manufacture sensations that we translate as “MUST EAT NOW.”
A person who wants to carry around less weight is opposed by powerful forces from both inside and outside. All this confusion, perhaps caused by a violated set point that will not tolerate interference, goes on inside. Meanwhile, we are also attacked from the outside by influences in the environment, including easily accessible awful food everywhere, and the inconceivably powerful effect of advertising.
To the rescue
This is where mindfulness comes in. It can protect us against the inner urges and promptings by teaching us how to question, examine, assess, evaluate and reinterpret the scrambled messages. Mindfulness can also become a sturdy armor that deflects the corrosive influence of advertising and other environmental triggers.
Journalist Tom Jacobs recounts how a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine research team studied a small number of children. Out of 38 subjects, six were overweight and five obese, and the scientists concluded that mindfulness, which they define as “the learned ability to stay focused on the present moment,” could actually recalibrate neural system imbalance.
MRI scans revealed that unhealthful eating…
[…] is driven by an imbalance between two different patterns of brain activity: one that stimulates impulsiveness (the fundamental drive to eat and therefore survive), and another that stimulates inhibition (which puts the brakes on when you’ve eaten too much).
Also, it looks as if mindfulness training works much better on children than on adults, probably because their incompletely formed brains are still malleable.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
To mark World Obesity Day (October 11) the United Kingdom’s College of Contemporary Health published an seven-page e-book called “Top 10 Tips to Avoid Mindless Eating,” which can be downloaded for free.
Tip #1 is to “Become aware of your personal triggers for eating and particular food choices.” Personal triggers are, by definition, individual, and identifying them requires a degree of self-awareness that usually takes some work. On the other hand, it is worth recalling one of the principles found in addiction recovery programs, because some triggers are almost universal.
When a recovering alcoholic feels compelled to drink, the acronym HALT is supposed to come to mind. The letters stand for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. If a person stops to think about it, and realizes that she or he is angry, lonely, or tired, that problem that should be addressed by some other action more appropriate than consuming food.
For people who are addicted to overeating, there is a complication, because the easy conclusion to jump to is, “That’s it! I’m hungry, therefore I should eat!” But as we know, sometimes signals can be deceptive. Childhood Obesity News has referred readers to a chart compiled by Doreen Virtue, that helps to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger. (A link to it can be found partway down this page.)
For instance, hunger that is sudden and urgent is probably not true hunger. When the body signals a genuine need for sustenance, it starts with mild sensations and gradually works up to more insistent messages. Another sign is a craving for a specific food. This one can be tricky, because someone who feels a strong desire for eggs or oranges might actually needs protein or Vitamin C. But the craving for chocolate-covered bacon is probably not legitimate.
So many ways to fail
The report identifies four subcategories of mindless eating — binge, emotional, external, and responsive. “External” eating is reactive to food-related cues in the environment, and this is the area where official regulations have the most potential to bring about change. The attempt to influence the prevalence of “external” eating is causing massive controversy in many countries, as national governments wrestle with the power of the media to constantly place images of food in front of people while inveigling them to eat.
State and local governments have their work cut out for them, too, and must deal with constant challenges and threats, especially to the health of young students. The College of Contemporary Health says:
Mindless eating has been linked to weight gain and weight regain after successful weight loss. The opposite to mindless eating is mindful or conscious eating, where individuals are taught to recognize the internal cues that signal satiety and are able to balance food intake and energy required.
Another of their tips is to use smaller plates and take the serving dishes away from the dinner table. Unfortunately, the majority of mindless eating is not done at a table, nor does it usually involve serving dishes.
For most Americans, the majority of their calories are probably taken on board through grazing, snacking, having a pizza delivered to consume in front of the television, or grabbing a soda just because a machine happens to be handy. Controlling that behavior is a whole separate science from what it takes to eat a civilized meal at a proper table.
Fortunately, both seated dining and untrammeled grazing are handled by Dr. Pretlow’s W8Loss2Go smartphone application, which is definitely worth checking out. The app’s website describes the technique in detail and answers every possible question.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
In the four most recent posts, Childhood Obesity News has outlined ideas for helping Halloween metamorphose into a different kind of holiday. The basic notion is to limit candy acquisition, candy retention, and candy consumption. Today’s message is mainly about the very end stage of Halloween night. What to do with the loot? That is the question.
If more than one child is involved, and they plan to swap back and forth, it doesn’t have to happen immediately. Save the barter session for the next day and prolong the holiday activities even more. Give the traders time to settle down and think clearly about the deals they hope to make.
Even if, up to this point, kids have kept whatever they collected, and made shrewd bargains with each other, they can still give away the items they don’t care for, and this is one of the things you negotiate beforehand. There are still a couple of weeks left to experiment with doing Halloween differently.
Ask a child to look up Operation Gratitude, which sends candy to America’s troops overseas. Maybe the local homeless shelter would be happy for the contributions. Together, do the research ahead of time, and have an anti-retention agreement in place.
An agreement, of course, has two parts — and what do kids get in return for giving up some or all of their high-calorie loot? We already talked about pre-Halloween shopping excursions to thrift stores or dollar stores, for decorations, costume parts, and other accessories.
That is the time to explain that we can’t afford everything right now. Your proposal is, “Donate your candy to the soldiers, and we’ll come back here right after Halloween and start getting ready for next year.”
So it’s Halloween night, and trick-or-treating is over. You put away the candy that is set aside to donate and set the date to fulfill your promise to visit the post-Halloween sales. But suppose the kids haven’t agreed to give away part of their swag. Those sales could be your bargaining chip. Since you recently shopped to prepare for the holiday, in the kids’ minds the memories are fresh, of all the fabulous things on the shelves, and the merchants will practically be giving the stuff away.
Of course, immediately after the holiday is a good time to avoid the grocery store, with its bins of leftover candy at tempting bargain prices. But, speaking of the supermarket, maybe your child has some favorite healthful food that you could trade for the candy. Even a pint of expensive, out-of-season raspberries would be preferable to the typical Halloween total of as many as 7,000 calories which, incidentally, take 44 hours of walking to burn off. Or maybe trade candy for a new video game.
In the worst-case scenario, when a child insists on keeping everything, allow the fun of sorting and gloating over the haul. Who knows, she or he might still come to the realization that some of it is just not desirable, and can be let go. For the items that are to be kept, hopefully you’ve reached an agreement earlier in the month — it will be rationed at a rate of two pieces per day, in the packed lunch, or saved for after the evening meal.
Or, if your family plays board games for amusement, save candy items with a long shelf life to use for game prizes. One truly innovative idea is to plan for a Christmas gingerbread house, and put away a stash of candy to decorate it with.
The main idea is to persuade the child to collaborate in setting some kind of limit, just for practice in limit-setting. Even if this year’s celebration isn’t everything you would like it to be, observe and make mental notes and get input from the child or children.
Talk things over, with an eye to the future. What was good about this year, and what was not? Think about a plan for next time, and pack it away with the costumes and decorations. And as for this year, be creative and have fun!
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Halloween haul: 3,500 to 7,000 calories,” UPI.com, 10/30/11
Photo via Visualhunt
We have walked, step by step, through some possible ways to handle Halloween with a three-pronged intention: minimize candy acquisition, minimize candy retention, and minimize candy consumption. In this timeline, the children are back from their trick-or-treat journey, and, ideally, caregivers and kids have negotiated the ensuing decisions beforehand.
As we have shown, negotiations are not wide-open. There are definite boundaries — for instance, before trick-or-treating, kids will eat a supper that includes a vegetable. Which vegetable? That’s negotiable. A parent might agree to provide a special excursion, if the kids agree to give away half their Halloween swag. But they get to decide which items to donate, and which charity receives the donation.
Here are more ideas about how a creative approach, plus previously made agreements, can potentially take this popular holiday to the next level. It’s worth doing, and doable.
Post Trick-or-Treat Protocol
If your household is distributing treats of any kind, you and your kids figure out together, ahead of time, what will happen to the leftovers. Edible leftovers, obviously, won’t be saved for next year. If you gave out some other kind of treat, as described in the Childhood Obesity News post “Remodeling Halloween,” let the kids decide whether to put away the remainder for next year. It’s probably not a big deal one way or another, but let them make some decisions and you’re more likely to get your way about other matters, without pushback.
One agreement that should be put in place is about how much can be consumed back home on the night itself. Negotiate the amount of swag that will be surrendered, by weight or by piece. This might be a good time to sneak in some math. It is in the child’s interest to know whether keeping 10 items is better than keeping one-tenth the of the entire haul.
In return for setting a limit (and sticking to it) what does the child get? You might plan an activity that removes the focus from eating. This is a great time for a photo session, especially if you and/or your kids have made your own brilliant, innovative costumes. If you decorated your yard, porch, hallway, or living room, don’t forget to document those accomplishments.
Take pictures of the candy haul, and then put it away for the time being. Tell stories about interesting things that happened while collecting the thousands of calories. Remember funny incidents from other Halloweens. Call friends or relatives and ask how their holiday went. Tell ghost stories. With preparation beforehand, you can use this time to play an elaborate, spooky game like the one immortalized by the writer Ray Bradbury.
It might be interesting to take a look at this article by Lizzie Hedrick, titled, “Parents can use Halloween as a teachable moment.” She quotes Donna Spruijt-Metz, whose mother taught her to evaluate the contents of her Halloween collection bag and think about what was worth keeping. This is important because kids tend to simply eat whatever is available, even if they don’t particularly enjoy it.
The object of all these suggestions is to demonstrate that, just because people have piles of candy, they don’t have to cram all it down their throats in one sitting. Another objective is to remind parents that little children need time and approval from their parents.
These are ways to spend quality time with people who, in their heart of hearts, value your attention more than sugar. If you want a candy-less Halloween, or anyway with less candy, provide enough entertaining activities, and that just might be possible.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Parents can use Halloween as a teachable moment,” USC.edu, 10/30/15
Image by Dan Foy
Halloween is acknowledged to be a very difficult time for children who are overweight or heading that way. Childhood Obesity News suggests ways to ease the stress of the situation by adopting some new “best practices“; banding together with neighbors to create a new local culture; asking schools and churches to retool their traditions; setting an innovative precedent that will make next year easier; and generally shifting the paradigm from a food holiday to an activity holiday.
We have covered the run-up to the holiday with suggestions for creating so much activity and enjoyment beforehand that the whole candy fetish loses importance and becomes not only secondary, but irrelevant. Maybe your family has already decided to distribute non-food treats, and accomplished this by letting the kids decide what will be given out instead. Maybe a tradition has already been established of skipping the trick-or-treat part altogether, and throwing a party that concentrates on theatrics and activities, rather than food. If so, congratulations!
This next section addresses the family in which going out to collect goodies is still on the menu. In this case, candy acquisition is a part of ongoing reality — but only a part. The rates of candy retention and consumption can still be impacted. If enough other interesting things are going on, it’s totally possible that agreements can be made. But you don’t want to spring anything on the kids. The ideal is to have agreements in place, and understood by all, before the event.
Agree to agree
Start by clarifying the goals, which are to put a lid on the collection of loot, and to set up some kind of rationing schedule so the sweets will not all be gobbled down at once — or maybe even swap them out for something else. Elicit a child’s cooperation in making a plan, and you’re halfway to success. When parents and kids negotiate an agreement ahead of time, everybody wins.
Of course, parents are quite justified in laying down some ground rules. For instance, on trick-or-treat night, a healthful meal will be served and vegetables will be eaten. Parents can step up and do their best to fill the children up with a good meal packed with vitamins. And, it goes without saying, skip the dessert.
As for the rest, it’s a collaboration that might take a little coaxing, and some persuasion. One suggestion is to not try to reach agreement in one fell swoop. The discussion might include a second, and even third stage. Bring it up, put it on the table, and come back to it. Sure, you want to make a change this year, but remember, the greater purpose is to set a precedent for future years and future additions to the family.
A lot depends on the kid (or kids) and the circumstances. It might be well to start as early as possible to define limits. Or maybe the better path is to wait until a certain amount of fun has been had (see the links in the first paragraph) and trick-or-treat might not seem so important. They might be ready to let it go.
Depending on the neighborhood, environment, weather, age range, and other factors, trick-or-treating can be limited, and advance negotiation is the name of the game. The time to work these things out is when the pile of brightly wrapped sugar bombs is still theoretical. The more input a child has the higher the chance of a good outcome.
One possibility is to set a time limit of 30 minutes or an hour of trick-or-treat wandering. Again, it depends on the surroundings, because you don’t want to encourage rudeness, where kids just grab the offerings without saying “Thank you” and then run away, knocking down other merry-makers. You also don’t want to inspire reckless street-crossing, dangerous shortcuts, or other unwise methods of making the most of the time.
Another way to set a parameter is by mapping out a route beforehand. Get some exercise by walking around with the child or children before Halloween, to plan the most promising course of action. You may be familiar with the neighborhood and know from previous years who has the best goodies. The amount of spooky decorations around a home might also be a good indicator.
The goal is to make a plan, agree to it, and stick to it. Or agree to limit the potential harvest by carrying only a small bag, plastic pumpkin, or other container.
A goal to try for is, no eating while on the trick-or-treat expedition. For one thing, anticipation makes even the best rewards sweeter. Also, despite what many people see as needless hysteria about evil neighbors, it is a good idea for parents to give everything a once-over before anybody eats anything. Furthermore, if kids plan to swap with each other afterward, it would be silly to gobble down anything that might be traded for an even better treat, if only they waited.
Next: After trick or treat, what?
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Image by Cristian Iohan Stefanescu
Taking the sugar out of Halloween is a worthy goal, and Childhood Obesity News has been looking at how to make the holiday so interesting and satisfying in other ways that the absence of high-calorie treats will not be seriously missed. We talked about substituting cute or fascinating little objects for candy in the trick-or-treat game, and that idea can be expanded even further.
This is an especially fertile ground for any family lucky enough to live in a house. A front yard is the ultimate bonus playground for Halloween fun. You can make tombstones from cardboard and prop them up with sticks, for instance. The same goes for weird little gnome-like figures, black cats with arched backs, and so forth.
Now, some might say, “We can buy those things” — but that is a temptation to be avoided. The whole idea here is to create absorbing activities that a child can take part in, and fill the weeks that lead up to the holiday with these activities. Another advantage of cardboard is that it doesn’t need to be stored until next year, but can be recycled.
If there is a porch, so much the better. Spider webs are the obvious go-to decoration, and they are moderately priced at stores. Make a witch’s cauldron, use weird glow-stick lighting — the Internet is full of ideas for spooky stage settings. A child with a theatrical streak might find that staying on a porch, cackling and stirring a cauldron, and handing out sugar-free trinkets, sounds more attractive than trekking around the neighborhood.
Yards and porches are not essential. If the neighborhood is safe enough a family might use the front hall or foyer for the Halloween den. Decorate it to the max, dress up, play spooky music, engage in performance art to your heart’s content, and have a ball. Older kids with the space and the ambition can make a backyard or garage into a haunted house. The point here is that preparation keeps the kids busy and provides the opportunity for creative participation from the whole family.
Different circumstances, different kids
Maybe the situation doesn’t allow for such public displays of Halloween spirit. One low-impact alternative is to use the time that precedes the holiday to write and illustrate an original ghost story. Even indoors, there are plenty of challenging and entertaining creative projects. Plain white masks are very cheap, and can be decorated in many different ways with crayons, markers, paint, and glued-on odds and ends.
If there isn’t much space, miniaturize. Make a Halloween roombox, which is similar to a dollhouse, but has only one room. Use odds and ends of cloth, plastic, string, styrofoam, or whatever is around, to create furniture and monsters; and use a small flashlight, LED lights or glow sticks to create an eerie effect.
Many parents shy away from pumpkin carving because of the mess factor. This is where those cute little miniature pumpkins enter the picture. They too can be carved, or drawn on, or decorated in other ways. The object is to give kids something to do other than obsess about a trove of candy, and fill up time with creative activity that they enjoy.
Which brings us to costumes. Every family should have a dress-up box to throw odds and ends into all year. When Halloween approaches see what can be made from the collected discards. This is a suggestion we’ve made before, and it might help to keep a trick-or-treater from chowing down before the candy even comes home.
Consider some kind of outfit where the child’s mouth is blocked by a duck bill or something. If they’re trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, you don’t want their vision impaired. But a mask that covers the lower part of the face is an excellent way to prevent candy from being consumed en route.
In most kids, the love of costuming is so strong that it can be harnessed in a very positive way. Make a real project out of it, and sugar lust might take a backseat. When all the people are satisfactorily dressed, start in on the pet. Pinterest points to thousands of ideas for Halloween fun, many of them unconnected with food in any way.
If your family is fortunate enough to live in a city where haunted houses materialize just before Halloween every year, see how many of them you can visit. Explore the feasibility of walking to biking to these destinations, for the exercise value. If your city has secondhand stores, visit them, and again think about traveling on foot or by bike if at all possible.
Leading up to Halloween, devote an afternoon (or several) to rummaging around in search of inspiration for your costume or home decor. Browsing the racks and shelves at a thrift store can be so absorbing kids might even forget to nag for soda and junk food.
You get the picture. Redesign the Halloween tradition to emphasize creativity and family togetherness, and maybe by the time the actual holiday rolls around, candy will be the last thing on your kids’ minds. It’s worth a try.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!