Kids and Motivation

Not Motivated

Here is a peek into the process of setting up the trials of Dr. Pretlow’s smartphone app, as he describes it:

Recruiting and engaging youth for our two W8Loss2Go app pilot studies has been extremely challenging. We offered $50 per month compensation, as well as free use of an iPhone 4S for the 4-month duration studies. We do require that prospective recruits complete an application and a motivation questionnaire: But, we’ve found little correlation with the results of this questionnaire and the success with the app program.

There were also exit questionnaires, which produced some interesting answers. The second study included 27 participants. They were asked to rate the relative importance of the possible reasons for joining, and according to their replies, the biggest reason was to lose weight. The second biggest reason was for the financial compensation, and the third was the opportunity to have free use of an iPhone for the duration.

There was also a write-in category for “other” answers. Among them were a desire to gain confidence and a boost in mood, and a wish to find ways to eat better even if it didn’t result in weight loss. The newness of the approach and its apparent convenience were attractive features, and one person expressed a general desire to “feel like i am doing something to help lose weight.”

For an uninvolved observer, it might seem as if every child and youth offered such an opportunity would leap at the chance and regard it as the best thing that ever happened to him or her. If obese kids are as unhappy as they seem — and many indeed are — it seems like they would be lining up around the block for the chance to change their lives, not only for free, but with a little extra reward for their time thrown into the bargain. In proportion to what is offered, the response seems almost tepid.

What is going on?

The same puzzling question appears to exist everywhere, all over the country and the world, where increasing numbers of obese children are morphing into obese teenagers. Sometimes it seems to go beyond a simple lack of motivation, into active resistance.

Is it actual resistance? Or is it just that too much else is happening, an overwhelming flood of physical, intellectual, and emotional demands, to the point where no mental energy remains to deal with this particular issue? And as usually happens in the teen years, the rebellion thing kicks in, and suddenly whatever anybody else tells them is good for them, they’re going to automatically reject just on principle — because that’s what adolescents do.

Thought experiment

Imagine being an obese teenager, dragging along the emotional consequences of childhood obesity: low self-esteem from being teased or bullied; depression, anxiety, and loneliness. In middle school, the odds are good that teasing and bullying will continue. You can’t participate in sports, or psychologically bring yourself to even try. At the beach, everybody else is catching a tan while you’re swathed in a giant T-shirt to hide the rolls of fat. In the summer, sweat pours out and drips into places where you can’t politely swab it in public. In the winter, you can’t find a jacket big enough to fit around your middle and zip up.

Clothes don’t fit, or if they do, you still look like a fat kid. Body parts that aren’t meant to rub against each other do. Chafed skin can be an unrelenting annoyance. Like most kids, you don’t think about diabetes and heart disease, but walking up a short flight of stairs, huffing and puffing, you have a foretaste of what it’s like to be a geriatric emphysema patient.

Visiting at a friend’s house, you sit down and break a chair. If you get on a plane to visit relatives, you have to bring a seat belt extender and put up with a lot of other inconvenience. Maybe you’re old enough to drive, but good luck fitting into a car. Your social life is in the pits, because who wants to date a whale?

To make such a life bearable, the forces arrayed against change must seem formidable and the possibility of change must seem beyond imagining.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Leon Fishman

What’s Up with Motivation?

Shame for Mihaha

The question of motivation, or lack of it, is endlessly provocative. A while back there was a media kerfuffle when a man thought he could motivate a Wisconsin TV news reader to lose weight by offering his critique of her ample figure. It bothered him even more that Jennifer Livingston had been overweight for many years and did not appear to be improving. Part of the message read:

I hope she’ll finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year.

Among other things, the complainer wrote, “Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular.” That observation implied that Ms. Livingston was not even a fit mother to her three daughters, a suggestion that neither she nor her husband appreciated. Bullying is an issue they take an interest in. Ms. Livingston filmed a four-minute reply, which her station aired, including these thoughts:

That man’s words mean nothing to me, but what really angers me about this is, is there are children who don’t know better — who get emails as critical as the one I received or in many cases, even worse, each and every day…. If you are at home and you are talking about the fat news lady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat.

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News examined the very atypical story of a man who responded to a friend’s disapproval and scolding by getting his act together and turning his life around. Any mental health professional would caution that such an outcome is extremely rare, and the approach would never be recommended for use on a child. Or would it?

The Hastings Center is described by journalist JoNel Aleccia as a nonprofit think tank, whose mission is “to address fundamental ethical issues in the areas of health, medicine, and the environment as they affect individuals, communities, and societies.” Its president emeritus, bioethicist Daniel Callahan, is over 80 — an age at which many people give up worrying about what others may think.

Dr. Callahan proposes that social pressure is not necessarily a bad thing, especially since the avoidance of stigmatization has not seemed to accomplish any reduction in the obesity rate. He advocates an edgier approach, like putting up posters that ask, “If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?” But as in many other areas of public life, the asking of a simple and seemingly innocent question is met with outrage.

Dr. Callahan’s iconoclastic suggestion originates from the most convincing argument of all: personal experience. He used to smoke cigarettes, and being treated like a pariah helped him to quit. He says:

The force of being shamed and beat upon socially was as persuasive for me to stop smoking as the threats to my health. The campaign to stigmatize smoking was a great success, turning what had been considered simply a bad habit into reprehensible behavior.

He wonders if there could be such a thing as “stigmatization lite” — a happy medium between outright shaming and pretending that no problem exists. With the right amount of social pressure, perhaps people would stop overeating, just as so many have quit smoking. Needless to say, it is a very controversial notion.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ ‘I’m in no position to bully her’: Man who shamed ‘fat’ news anchor finally apologizes,” DailyMail.co.uk, 10/05/12
Source: “Fat-shaming May Curb Obesity, Bioethicist Says,” today.com, 01/24/13
Image by Gabriel

Fat Shame as Motivation

The Rest of Your Life

In the latest trial of Dr. Pretlow’s W8Loss2Go smartphone app, the buddy feature turned out not to be one of the most popular tools. Perhaps its true potential was not fully explored by the participants, who had many other things on their minds. The news story we look at today concerns adults, not children. The subject is an American whose British friend would not be described as a weight-loss buddy, but who definitely is a healthy-living ally. The unusual thing about the story, told by Alex Greig, is that it describes efficacious fat-shaming that worked an incredible change.

It started in 2012 with 30-year-old Brian Flemming, who weighed 625 pounds and had a drinking problem. Flemming was taking in 7,000 calories worth of food and beverages per day, along with a fifth of vodka. A college dropout who had lost his job, Flemming was a mess and spent most of his time playing video games.

Through one of the online games, he was randomly assigned to an opponent named Jackie Eastham, age 50, a woman with myotonic muscular dystrophy, which “causes progressive wasting of the muscles and other symptoms.” The two began to chat online, and Flemming revealed his dire situation to Eastham. If he expected sympathy, it was not forthcoming. As his new friend told a CNN reporter, “I just thought bloody hell, you’re a guy who’s 30… and you’re wasting your life.”

And she told him so, in no uncertain terms. Here was a person with a serious medical condition, doing her darnedest to fulfill every tenet of healthful conduct in order to function — and trying to feel well enough to even care whether she functioned or not. And there was a young man with a promising future before him, throwing it all away.

Flemming’s self-pity morphed into anger and shame, but rather than sever the relationship, he used those emotions as fuel to turn his life around. The first step was to quit the booze cold-turkey, and that alone brought about a 100-pound weight loss in a month — probably largely due to giving up the liter of soda pop he habitually chased the liquor down with.

Baby steps

Next, Flemming started to move. At first, just walking in place inside his home was all he could handle. Then, he started going out at night (to be seen by fewer people) and walked around the neighborhood. Soon he was cycling, and he even found employment.

Feeling better made him feel better, and his chronic depression lightened. Weekly therapy sessions helped maintain the momentum. After slightly more than a year, he had managed to shed an amazing 365 pounds, amounting to almost a pound a day. At last report, his weight was down to 234 and he was making plans to “pay it forward” by returning to school to become a psychotherapist specializing in depression, anxiety, and weight loss. The journalist captured a wonderful quotation from him:

Jackie is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I feel that she saved my life, even though she would never take credit…. I also plan to return to Cedar Point [amusement park] this year. I haven’t been able to fit on the rides in 14 years!

This may be the one case in history where fat-shaming worked, and then only because of the remarkable qualities of the friend who wanted to help. Or maybe Flemming was simply ready. At any rate, the technique is not recommended for use, especially with children or youth. This fascinating tale is an anomaly, not an endorsement.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “American man loses almost 400lbs in just over a year with help from UK friend he met randomly on game app, DailyMail.co.uk, 04/28/14
Image by Simon James

Some Theories of Motivation

Pull Your Own Weight

A child is obese who can’t lift herself or himself off the ground, even with a jumping assist. So says coach and physical educator Rick Osbourne, who proposes a straightforward strategy that is said to motivate kids to “naturally immunize themselves against obesity for life.”

Every school and community center needs relatively cheap equipment — pull-up bars with height-adjustable straps — and adults trained in the very simple utilization of them. In explaining the nutritional and physiological basics, Osbourne says that pull-ups intrinsically reward children for being strong and light. Participating in the Operation Pull Your Own Weight program also helps others. Kids give each other positive reinforcement as they improve, and there is strength in helping others grow strong.

Other benefits accrue, because the good eating and exercise habits promoted here improve performance in a way that is obvious and measurable. As measurable performance milestones are passed, that provides even more incentive to eat clean and stay active. It’s all about building confidence and self-esteem, which result from experiencing frequent success that is built on small increments of improvement. Osbourne says:

The systematic motivational basics of Operation Pull Your Own Weight are as follows: All kids want to be strong at everything and weak at nothing. Nothing motivates kids like growing stronger (succeeding) in front of friends. Self-competition enables all kids to win almost all the time. Winning frequently is a highly motivating habit that can be actively cultivated.

At the University of Georgia, researchers are working with mixed reality — a combination of the real world and a virtual environment. They recruited 60 kids, ages 9 to 12, in a study “designed to increase awareness and reduce childhood obesity.”

Half of the kids were given the opportunity to interact with a virtual obese dog, and the average child in that group achieved an hour more of exercise per day than the dogless group. Their motivation? Altruism. They did it all for the sake of the poor chubby pup. Kyle Johnsen’s story says:

For the group with the virtual pet, if their goal had been met, their dog would give them a congratulatory message and allow them to use controls to cause the dog to perform a trick. For example, if a child set a goal to complete 30 minutes of physical activity and met that goal, then the child would see a real time change in the pet’s physical appearance and response rate and be able to teach the pet to sit or roll over.

On the other hand, Dr. Deborah Cohen of the RAND Corporation suggests an innate human propensity that might quash motivation. Her book, A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic — and How We Can End It, was reviewed by Susannah Cahalan, in a piece that describes the research behind the problem. Explaining Cohen’s argument that the human cognitive system is sadly feeble and can get tired just like a flabby muscle, Calahan writes:

The tug-of-war between gluttony and self-discipline takes place in the brain between the higher cognitive processing systems, responsible for planning and long-term problem solving, and the base, more instinctual, non-cognitive processing system, which might as well have a ‘Feed Me’ sign.

Unfortunately for mankind, the cognitive processing system, the seat of self-control, is itty-bitty and only functions ‘less than 5% of the time,’ leaving the non-cognitive system with the reins the rest of the time.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The New: Operation Pull Your Own Weight,” YouTube.com, 06/23/12
Source: “Virtual pet leads to increased physical activity for kids, research says,” MedicalXpress.com, 05/14/14
Source: “Why gov’t should regulate food like tobacco & alcohol,” NYPost.com, 12/28/13
Image by Rick Osbourne

Mysterious Motivation

Bad Attitude (clown)

Research projects like the Millennium Cohort Study have found that for obese children, both emotional and behavioral problems start early. Especially for boys, life is an endless round of physical and psychological discomforts. Quality of life is affected in numerous ways, from the difficulty of finding big enough clothes, to school desks that are too small, to low self-esteem exacerbated by bullying.

According to the National Institutes of Health, obese boys as young as 3 have more behavioral problems than their age-mates of normal weight. The professionals who work with them notice increased problems with hyperactivity and inattention by age 5, as well as difficulty with peer relationships. Many of the problems that start early only become more serious with time. But somehow, the motivation to change is often simply not there, or hidden and smothered by layer upon layer of other issues.

In working with overweight children and adolescents, Dr. Pretlow has noticed repeatedly that motivation is problematic. This observation is so counterintuitive as to be almost mysterious. Because no one wants to be uncomfortable, unhealthy, or ostracized, it seems to outsiders (i.e., health care providers, professional therapists, teachers, parents, etc.) that the motivation to slim down ought to be built in. But one school of thought proposes the opposite.

Even when help is available and freely offered, kids sometimes find themselves incapable of taking advantage of opportunities to change course. Adults stand by, confused and helpless. One hint comes from Deborah Cohen, M.D., of the RAND Corporation, who wrote A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic — and How We Can End It. She discusses self-limiting, or the ability to say no to oneself.

Since so many people lack the ability to say no to themselves, with such devastating personal and societal results, Cohen would like to see the government take a firmer stand in the regulation and taxing of junk food. But why advocate such drastic and unpopular measures? Because, Cohen believes, humans are “biologically designed to overeat.” Says Susannah Cahalan in a review of Cohen’s book:

The tug-of-war between gluttony and self-discipline takes place in the brain between the higher cognitive processing systems, responsible for planning and long-term problem solving, and the base, more instinctual, non-cognitive processing system, which might as well have a “Feed Me” sign.

Seen in this light, the obstacle is that the ability to self-limit varies from one person to the next, and appears to be innate to such an extent, Cohen suggests, that it cannot be taught. As she puts it,

An individual can improve to a degree, but someone who has been born with genes associated with low self-control will never be able to develop the capacity for self-control of someone who was endowed with more favorable genes.

If indeed the ability to say no to oneself is genetically determined, then it would follow that the question of motivation is moot, because it can neither be intrinsically cultivated nor extrinsically instilled. Can this be? Or is it actually possible to help young people find the inspiration to change? As Dr. Pretlow states, further research on this question is essential.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Health risks of childhood obesity,” Noo.org.uk
Source: “Is obesity associated with emotional and behavioural problems in children?” NIH.gov, June 2011
Source: “Why gov’t should regulate food like tobacco & alcohol,” NYPost.com, 12/28/13
Image by Fotofever

 

My Halloween, by Curly: a Suggestive Fiction

2010 Halloween

Mom had to work on Halloween, so Dad fixed up our party. While it was still light out, five of my friends came over in their costumes. There were some carrot sticks and celery sticks for us to eat, which was kind of was lame, but Larry and Charlotte both ate some, so whatever. Anyway, we picked teams, two on each team, and Dad gave us each a list of what we had to bring back. Each list had 10 certain kinds of candy — like orange pumpkins with flat bottoms, or a peanut butter cup, or chocolate with almonds.

We used to trick-or-treat for everything we could get and send most of it to the soldiers. But it’s not good for them to get cavities, because how can they go to the dentist over there? Anyway, last year Annie and I made a rule, and we kept it again, even if Emily says it is fiendish. Because when we get to somebody’s door, if they’re giving out anything that’s not on our list, we have to say “No, thank you” and go to the next place.

But the other teams can still try, because even if some of the stuff on our lists was the same, some of it was different. For example, the first three houses Annie and I went to, they were not giving out a single thing on our list! But then Larry and Emily came to the same house right after us, and got the exact kinds of candy they needed. This happened three times in a row! It was a Halloween curse for us. But not for them.

Anyway, Dad kind of lurked around in back of us. His green hat glowed in the dark, in case we needed to find him fast, but nobody ever did. Charlotte and Moe’s team got their 10 things first, but did not stop going on porches — they just kept saying “No, thank you” because they like to blow people’s minds.

Then Annie and I finished our list and lurked with Dad until Larry and Emily were done. We got back home and each picked one thing to eat right then, and the teams went in different rooms to camouflage the rest of it. What you do is, take the eight things that are left and wrap them up in foil to disguise what’s inside. You know foil bends a lot. Annie and I wrap it so people will think it’s a whole different kind. Like, you take some little plastic pouch of candy corn and make the foil around it look like a whole regular-size candy bar in there. (Last year, we used paper bags and stapled them shut. That’s okay too.)

So then we put our wrapped-up things — there’s 24 of them now — into a bucket, and Dad mixes them up and dumps them out in the middle of the table. Now we each get to pick 2 things, and unwrap one of them. So you’ve got one thing that you know what it is, and one Mystery Item, and half of everything is still in the middle.

Charlotte and Moe were the winners of collecting, because they got done first, so one of them would get the first turn. They did heads-or-tails, and Charlotte won. Her unwrapped thing was red licorice, which she H-A-T-E-S, so she asked Emily to trade for a peanut butter cup but Emily was like “No way!” so she asked me and I traded her for my Crunch bar because I happen to love red licorice. So then it was my turn and I couldn’t decide what to do because that licorice was not leaving my keep pile. But when I looked around, there wasn’t anything I really wanted, so I decided to trade my Mystery Item for a different one from the middle.

When you do that, the Weighing Rule kicks in. It’s a great rule that Larry thought of. In the middle, I picked up every single Mystery Item one by one — there were 12, remember, and it when I got to the fourth or fifth one, Moe groaned like he couldn’t stand it any more, and then every time I lifted up another thing to test it, everybody groaned like they were dying. Dad said we were scaring the ghosts away.

But I picked the Mystery Item that weighed the most, and everybody knew why, because of one certain thing I was hoping for. But when I took off the foil, it was another kind of candy bar instead, and they laughed like hyena baboons.

Anyway, everybody had a chance to swap with another person’s Mystery Item, or the one they could see, or a Mystery Item from the middle. To start the next round, we all took another thing from the middle so there were only six left, and that’s when we started trying out new rules. This is going to be the best game ever, and Moe says next year his brother will make a movie and put us on YouTube!

Image by Steven Depolo

Experiment with Halloween

haggling for halloween candy

Dr. Pretlow happened upon an interesting American Dental Association study that has positive implications for someday transforming Halloween into a sugar-free festival. The Halloween Consumer Study asked kids what parts of Halloween they like most, with surprising results. Childhood Obesity News has been exploring ways to use the new knowledge in accomplishing two aims: to reduce the total amount of junk consumed by each child, and to provide experiences more valuable than candy. Parents of small children have a natural advantage, because little kids just love face-time with Mom or Dad. More than anything, they crave positive attention in a playful context.

Hopefully, a parent will want to get the trick-or-treat part over with, but not just so everybody can get back to watching TV, and not even just to reduce the total amount of sugary loot the kids bring home. It can be incredibly rewarding to devote the whole evening to doing Halloween. The investment of time is worthwhile because it produces kids who, as they grow, can entertain themselves in ways that are not worrisome.

The surprising results

The study learned that the most popular aspects of the holiday are trick-or-treating and dressing up in costume. “Getting lots of candy” came in third. And therein lies hope for the harried and guilt-ridden parent. According to this information, for the largest number of kids, trick-or-treating is the big fun. What they enjoy is the process, the thrill of the hunt. What if trick-or-treat were combined with the scavenger-hunt format?

There is no such thing as “one size fits all,” but we’re going to suggest a type of game that could make the holiday more interesting. The role of grownups in this is to set rules or help their kids make up rules, depending on their ages and so forth. Again, the bottom line is, you want to limit the amount of junk food that comes through the door and create enough justification for it so the kids feel it’s a worthwhile tradeoff — such as the creation of a splendid game that can become a family and/or neighborhood tradition.

The rules could go a bunch of different ways. Remember, the object here is to give the kids something to do besides think about how much swag they’re missing out on. There is no hurry. The mission is to fill up a chunk of time with a creative activity the kids enjoy. With luck, they will be motivated to invent additional alternative and minimal-calorie activities for next year. What more could a parent ask?

Tomorrow’s post will be a fictitious account of what a healthful Halloween might look like. Take it as a hint, not a blueprint. Whatever the details of a particular family’s circumstances, the object is to keep the focus on “less candy/more fun.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “2012 US – Halloween Consumer Study,” infosolutionsgroup.com, 2012
Image by woodleywonderworks

Trick or Treat, Before and After

Halloween Candy

First, before children set out on their trick-or-treat rounds, or before they go to a party, or before you host your own party, do your best to fill them up with a good meal. Sure, kids are capable of eating an enormous amount of attractive junk, but when a plateful of legitimate nutrients has already gone down the hatch, it actually could make a difference. Sometimes, “Can’t hurt, might help” is the best a parent can hope for.

When it comes to the trick-or-treat harvest, Childhood Obesity News has already recommended advance negotiation. The time to work this out is now, before things get really exciting and while the pile of brightly wrapped sugar bombs is still theoretical. Once the junk-food avalanche shows up as a reality, it’s hard to cut a deal.

Agency

Even if their power is only illusory, kids like to have some agency — some say in what goes on. They can also surprise adults with their empathy and willingness to share. One thing is certain — imposing a top-down rule is usually counterproductive. The more input a child has, the more likely a good result becomes. Start by clarifying the goal, which is to have some kind of ration scheme in place so the sweets will not all be eaten at once. Elicit a child’s cooperation in making a plan, and you’re halfway to success.

Or start by establishing that most of the candy will be given away, and let the child decide whether “most” will be determined by weight or by item count. Operation Shoebox and Halloween Candy Buyback are programs that send donated goodies to the troops. Or maybe there is a homeless shelter in your area. Present two choices, and let the children decide whether the beneficiaries of their generosity will be soldiers or homeless kids.

A child may ask, “If this stuff is so bad for me, why is it okay for them?” Just say, “Glad you asked. You’re absolutely right. It’s not really good for anybody, but soldiers are very active, so they burn up the calories. Homeless kids don’t get many treats. This way, you have some candy instead of a lot, and they have some candy instead of nothing at all.” And be glad you have a kid with a sharp enough brain to think about those kinds of questions.

Kate Harrison suggests a course that many parents may see as a last resort, while others sigh with relief at its availability. For Forbes, she writes:

Another option I have seen work well, especially with slightly older kids, is cold hard cash. A one-time buyback can get you most of the way there. A follow up a few weeks later, when the allure of candy has dwindled a little bit and the best candy is gone (a.k.a. when demand is down), can finish off the pile.

Harrison’s assumption that any of the sugary swag will still be around “a few weeks later” may be overly optimistic, but the basic idea could keep harmful substances out of a child’s digestive system, which is always a plus.

Post trick-or-treat

So, that’s part of the program for Halloween night — kids can sort out what they have collected, separate it into categories, and wrap up the portion to be given away. Here is a major tip, especially if the kids are wearing original creations. On the afternoon or night of your Halloween party, or after trick-or-treat, devote some time to a substantial photo session documenting the brilliant, innovative costumes. Or with some preparation, you can play an elaborate, spooky game like the one used by horror writer Ray Bradbury for one of his most memorable stories. On the 31st, take on the mission of providing enough entertaining activities that kids have something to do besides eat candy.

Next: one possible scenario of how a minimal-sugar Halloween night could play out.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Can You Buy Back Childhood Obesity?” Forbes.com, 11/03/2013
Image by Nina Hale

Halloween — Distract and Divert

DSC01583

Childhood Obesity News has been exploring the possibility of a society-wide adjustment in the theory and practice of Halloween. Every year it becomes more popular as a secular holiday with an enormous potential for enjoyment. As individuals and families — and as a society — maybe, one year at a time, we can inch it further and further away from being a sugar-based occasion of emotional and physical trauma for so many kids.

According to the Halloween Consumer Study, girls like to dress up in costumes more than boys do — the numbers are 76% and 67%. Even so, that means out of every 10 boys, six or seven of them are into costumes, so make the best of it. Long before October 31, the exchange of ideas can begin about what to wear. Parents and kids can explore the costume possibilities for all family members. A Saturday afternoon spent browsing the racks and shelves at a thrift store can be so absorbing, kids might even forget to nag for soda and junk food.

Take advantage of the love of costumes by making a project out of it leading up to the holiday. Start planning right now, so nobody gets stressed. Why not create something original? When a family puts time and energy into a project, they get extra mileage out of the holiday, with zero caloric input. Imagine something wonderful; design it; turn it into reality. Who knows — it could lead to a career! Check out this photo of spooky film director Tim Burton as a child, wearing a costume made by his mom.

And what about the non-human family members? Making a costume for a pet can also be a rewarding pastime.

Endless possibilities

A columnist recently complained that grownups are taking over Halloween, but that’s just silly, because there is no reason why people of all ages can’t have a good time. Parents can do an enormous amount to take their children’s minds off candy and focus the attention on other activities. There are dozens of ways to vindicate the study’s finding that nine out of 10 kids would like Halloween just as much without candy. Just for starters, Pinterest.com points to thousands of ideas for Halloween fun, many of them unconnected with food in any way.

In some communities, groups of little kids dress up and visit retirement homes and assisted-living facilities. The grownups make arrangements ahead of time, of course, and ask the staff not to distribute any sugary treats, and kids have a splendid time parading through the dining room or lounge, showing off their costumes.

Are there other creative and enriching Halloween pursuits that can take the focus off candy? Glad you asked! Pumpkin-carving can be a great family activity (and the seeds can be roasted for a healthful snack). If that makes too much of a mess, use tiny pumpkins, or don’t even carve them. Draw faces with markers, and glue stuff on. Make them look like people you know, or TV characters. Is your child literary or artistic? Write and/or illustrate a ghost story. Is your child musical? Study up on the basic elements of creepy melodies and write a scary song.

The handouts

If your family gives out treats, you truly have a chance to influence the course of civilization by substituting interesting gizmos for candy. There is still time to choose with your child what kind of prizes you want to distribute from the front door. No matter where you live, thanks to the Internet, there is still plenty of time to discover and procure something amazing.

Visit an online vendor like Archie McPhee, where you can get a group of finger monsters or fake mustaches for a reasonable price, or even sandwich bags decorated with crime-scene tape. Listen to this deal — 18 pairs of glow-in-the-dark googly eyes for under $10. Something with a bit more class, perhaps? How about adhesive bandages with Shakespearean insults printed on them, or temporary tattoos based on Edgar Allan Poe stories?

About Parenting features a post by Amanda Rock describing several alternative Halloween-themed treats, and for Parents, Raven Snook has compiled a similar collection. To make a long story short, plenty of companies have an array of items designed to please kids as much as candy. A savvy parent could theoretically plan a whole month’s worth of spare-time activities centered around Halloween without ever ingesting a single gram of sugar.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “2012 US – Halloween Consumer Study,” infosolutionsgroup.com, 2012
Image by Jug Jones

Halloween — There Is Still Time

Creepy Doll is Creepy

Dr. Pretlow and many more doctors, members of other health and caring professions, parents, and anti-obesity activists — what do they all have in common? A hope that Halloween can be transmogrified from an excuse to consume mass quantities of sweets to a different kind of holiday altogether. Parents can do a lot to divert and distract their children’s attention from the caloric angle and focus it on the creative aspects of what is, let’s face it, a much-loved annual festival.

In the first week of October there is still time to find out what the plan is at preschool, daycare, public school, or wherever else your child spends time offsite — and possibly to influence that plan. There is still time to conspire with other parents in your neighborhood or social circle to create a sugar-free Halloween party. One obvious, practical step can be taken. A family can get ready for the whole series of fall and winter celebrations by stepping up the physical activity in any way possible.

Alternatives

The American Dental Association recently did a Halloween Consumer Study and found — well, prepare to be amazed: “Nine out of ten children said they would still like Halloween if it was less about candy and more about other types of fun.”

Out of any 10 kids, nine are big enough Halloween fans to enjoy it without the harmful junk food. That is a substantial piece of information to grab hold of and work with. As parents and grownups, we can cultivate a new, improved holiday that will eclipse the lame, sugar-centric travesty it has become. Suggestion: make a big project, and an opportunity for family togetherness, from the non-candy side of October 31.

Maybe a family is lucky enough to live in a city where haunted houses materialize just before Halloween every year. Visit them. Combine those excursions with the idea in Paragraph 2, and explore the feasibility of walking or biking to the haunted houses. Or maybe there is one that donates its proceeds to a local charity — could you and/or your kids volunteer?

Start a new tradition

Depending on how ambitious a parent feels, she or he could feed the words “make haunted house” into YouTube, and see what people are doing in their garages and back yards, and how they do it. Some DIY-ers are visited by hundreds of kids on Halloween. Like many hobbies, haunted house creation can soak up a huge share of your disposable income, or it can be done on the cheap. A lot of materials and props for such projects can be picked up for free, found at yard sales and used-stuff emporiums like Goodwill, or located online through FreeCycle.

As amateur set designers, don’t be afraid to start modestly. If you are fortunate enough to live in a house, ask your computer’s search engine for images of “Halloween yard decoration” and go nuts. If you intend to give out treats on the big night, put the kids in charge of spooking up the front door and/or porch, perhaps with scary sound effects. Or decorate a room inside, or several of them.

Decorating is more likely to appeal to older children, who are comfortable with the idea of a good time that doesn’t involve candy. Fortunately, little kids have a natural desire to imitate older ones, and benign advantage can be taken of that tendency.

But what if you live in an apartment or other small space? One word: miniaturize. Turn a cardboard box on its side; paint it. Use odds and ends of cloth, plastic, string, styrofoam, or whatever is around, to create furniture and monsters; rig a small penlight to create an eerie effect. It is totally possible to make a haunted house diorama that any family can be proud of.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “2012 US – Halloween Consumer Study,” infosolutionsgroup.com, 2012
Image by Tori Siegel

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
Copyright © 2014 eHealth International. All Rights Reserved.