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.


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?”, 11/03/2013
Image by Nina Hale

Halloween — Distract and Divert


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, 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,”, 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.


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,”, 2012
Image by Tori Siegel

Halloween Advance Strategy

Christopher's Halloween Candy

Anyone who hasn’t yet heard enough about Halloween is in the right place, because Childhood Obesity News has plenty more on tap. Parents, think back to previous Halloweens, especially last year. Did you make any notes to yourself about doing things differently?

Because individuals and families vary greatly, nothing works for everybody, but it is definitely worth trying some ideas to ameliorate the holiday stress. And of course the family situation is very different, depending on whether there is one child or more, and their various ages, and so on. Older siblings will “blow the gaff.” Obviously, the easiest case to deal with is an only child. With any luck, parents can keep a singleton from finding out about Halloween at a precocious age, and win a grace period of a year or two.

When children are accustomed to “doing” Halloween a certain way, it may require some audacious originality to jolt them out of the rut. But don’t give up on trying to establish a new pattern. As we mentioned last time, a consumer survey showed that an older child might be willing to trade pounds of candy for a new video game. An older sister or brother might also be persuaded to downplay the sugar-festival aspect of Halloween and encourage or participate in different kinds of fun.

Advance Strategy

If it’s a two-parent household or other adults are on the scene, it helps to make sure everybody is on board and understands how Halloween will be handled. The thing to avoid is conflict between authority figures. The grownups need to hash out a policy in advance and wind up on the same page.

If the kids are doing the traditional trick-or-treat rounds in the neighborhood, work out an agreement with some boundaries. It could be a time limit of 30 minutes or an hour. Parents and children can conspire beforehand to map out a route with the most promise of reward, and then stick to it.

See if kids can be coaxed into setting arbitrary rules that increase the challenge. For instance, just to make things interesting, they’re only allowed to go to a house where somebody is already on the porch. Or only allowed to go to a house that is handing out treats, but where nobody is currently asking. Or even-numbered addresses, or odd-numbered ones.

It doesn’t really matter, as long as the rule originates with the kid or kids, and will ultimately advance the parent’s hidden agenda of bringing less sugar home at the end. A decision might be made to eat no sweets while traipsing door-to-door. Other agreements can be made ahead of time, about what happens to the candy that night — only two pieces can be eaten, plus two held out for school tomorrow, with the rest put away for later.

If all the collected items are to be kept, get the child’s cooperation in working out a rationing scheme — two pieces a day, and only in the school lunch. Or only at home, after the evening meal. The idea is to persuade the child to collaborate in setting some kind of limit, just for practice in limit-setting.

Another opinion

In the interest of fairness, we mention an opposing view from Samira Kawash, who wrote for a piece called “Controlling Your Kids’ Candy Stash Is Bad Parenting.” Kawash learned from a recent survey that almost three-fourths of American parents plan to control their kids’ Halloween candy consumption, and wrote:

When you take away your child’s candy, you are saying that the candy is too dangerous for him or her to handle. That she needs adult protection from her own desire to eat it. That she can’t be trusted to figure out on her own how to manage her candy. These messages aren’t just about candy. These messages are about who your child is as a person.

The job of parents is to help their children become responsible people. And we have to let them make those mistakes for themselves. Let your kids be in control, and show them you trust them to follow through.

But Childhood Obesity News does not advocate dictatorial control. That’s why we emphasize such terms as persuade, coax, cooperate and collaborate. When parents and kids negotiate and reach an agreement ahead of time, everybody wins.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Controlling Your Kids’ Candy Stash Is Bad Parenting,”, 10/31/13
Image by Jim, the Photographer

Halloween’s Inexorable Approach

Christopher's Halloween Candy 2

Halloween kicks off eating season, the first of a series of occasions where food is the signifier of love, togetherness, hospitality, generosity, and regret. Anyone who gains from 7 to 10 pounds over the winter holiday season is normal, and a dismaying number of people never manage to shed those pounds before the next seasonal eating extravaganza rolls around.

The only good thing about Halloween is that it doesn’t affect everybody. It’s just a very special ordeal for kids at risk for overweight or obesity, kids who are already overweight or obese, and their parents. It should be renamed “Enable-oween” or “Sabotage-oween.” One researcher determined that the average trick-or-treat haul contains 3 cups of sugar and 4,800 calories.

Halloween is dicey enough for regular kids who just need to be careful. For a child who has been trying to achieve a healthy weight and not making very much progress, it can be a monumental challenge. Along comes October 31, with tons of treats everywhere. A poll conducted by Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website asked overweight kids to name the worst day of the year. Childhood Obesity News believes that our readers will intuit which autumnal holiday won the doubtful honor.

Healthy-weight kids

Dr. Pretlow calls our attention to the Halloween Consumer Study carried out by the American Dental Association by way of an online survey that questioned more than 500 kids in the 5-to-13 age group. According to this information, 65% named Halloween as best holiday of the year. Here is a real shocker: 93% of the respondents said that instead of candy, they would rather have a new video game. Parents might take a cue from this and negotiate an outright trade of candy stash for an electronic treat instead.

As for the holiday itself, older kids seem more into the trick-or-treat and dress-up aspects. As might be expected, the prospect of bountiful candy is more popular at the younger end of the age spectrum. Also unsurprisingly, the study found attitudinal differences between the dentally experienced, who had had some cavities filled, and those whose teeth had never been drilled. The ones with fillings tend more readily to agree that too much candy is bad for them.

The study also found that 48% of girls worry about cavities caused by too much Halloween candy, while only 38% of the boys share that concern. Of the girls, 73% agree that they eat too much candy around the holiday, as compared to only 63% of boys. In short, girls are more easily impressed by Halloween’s downside.

Here is a thought on communication from Samira Kawash, for

Halloween candy is a great opportunity to engage your kids in a real, meaningful conversation about food and the way we take care of our bodies. If you are concerned about the effect of eating vast quantities of candy at once or even spread over weeks, share that with your kids. Then stop talking and listen.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kids Consume 3 Cups of Sugar and 4,800 Calories at Halloween,”, 10/31/11
Source: “2012 US – Halloween Consumer Study,”, 2012
Source: “Controlling Your Kids’ Candy Stash Is Bad Parenting,”, 10/31/13
Image by Jim, the Photographer

Halloween Preparedness Starts Now

Day 148

What? We’re talking about Halloween and it’s only October 1st? Exactly! The manufacturers and retailers are ready, no doubt about that, with those industrial-size packages of candy already on display. Parents need to be ready too.

Here is an interesting research topic for an ambitious student: How many grownups stock up early on trick-or-treat candy, then eat it all, and have to replace it as the scary day approaches? Of course, self-reporting makes unreliable research results. If only there were a way to discover the truth about that esoteric question!

Speaking of truth, do we even know what’s in the little calorie bombs? Sheryl Ryan for the Green Mom Guide looked up some candy ingredients and found that the goodies we and our kids eat for fun often contain trace amounts of such carcinogens as mercury, lead, and arsenic. Junk food is replete with artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, and colors, many of which have been linked not only to cancer, but to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, eczema, asthma, and allergies.

High fructose corn syrup has raised suspicions in connection with kidney and liver disease. Anyone whose alarm bells are set off by the initials GMO should know that about half of the white sugar in the United States originates from genetically modified sugar beets. If a label says “soy lecithin,” that probably comes from genetically modified plants, too. What if the package boasts of contents that are “all natural”? Ryan says:

‘Natural flavors’ can also include animal secretions, crushed insects, and other natural ingredients that many consumers — especially vegetarians and vegans — would not want to eat on their own.

Just a doggone minute! Crushed insects? Yes, says Mike Adams of Natural News:

Carmine is sourced from a mash made by grinding up beetles grown in Peru and the Canary Islands. The mash is strained out to obtain a red liquid. That liquid, made from insects, is then shipped to the United States to food companies…. That’s what’s in your yogurt (and a lot of candy and children’s foods as well). Some people have a dangerous allergic reaction to this ingredient. They can go into anaphylactic shock….

Other additives come from coal tar and petrochemicals. What is coal tar, one might ask? But a complete answer would not be forthcoming, because only about half of its components have been identified. Yellow #2 food dye has been linked with “nervous system malfunctions that ultimately are misdiagnosed as ADHD, learning disabilities, or violent behavior.” Feed a child some of that, along with a ration of sugar, and the inmates take over the asylum.

Are humans so stupid? Absolutely not. We don’t lack brains, but often our intelligent thought processes are overruled by instincts our species has possessed for millennia. Back in the days of the hunter-gatherers, bright color was usually the tipoff that a growing thing held nutritional value. Bright color was nature’s way of signifying usable energy.

One more discouraging word. Rather than buy candy, a parent might think to make cupcakes instead — something with the calories not so concentrated, but spread out and distributed among the larger bulk. But commercial frosting, it turns out, generally contains hydrogenated soybean oil, which appears to be a nerve toxin. We won’t go into it today, but many nutritionists are against soybeans in any form, including oil, whether hydrogenated, partially so, or not at all.

Stay tuned for more Halloween lore and helpful hints.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Don’t Let Halloween Candy Scare You,”, undated
Source: “How food companies fool consumers with food coloring ingredients made from petrochemicals,”, 03/21/08
Image by Matthew Frederickson

Far-Flung Globesity

Mother and child in Mongolia

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom’s Overseas Development Institute determined that
“The number of overweight and obese adults in the developing world has almost quadrupled to around one billion since 1980.” According to the Future Diets report, obesity in both China and Mexico almost doubled during that time, with South Africa and the Middle East not far behind. The most shocking increase came in Southeast Asia, where the percentage of obese people tripled, from 7% at the beginning of the accounting period to 22% at its finish.

Among Latin American countries, 3.8 million children younger than 5 are obese. Mexico is the heftiest, with an overall obesity rate of 32.8%. Venezuela is pretty bad with 30.8%, and although Argentina has succeeded in wiping out hunger, it now has a 29.4% obesity rate. The report speaks disparagingly of “American-sized portions” and notes that impoverished people work too hard to be attracted by the idea of doing extra exercise. Unable to afford good-quality food, they buy the filling, low-nutrition kind instead. Journalist Nicole Akoukou Thompson says:

Latin American countries have raced up the list, standing shapely hip-to-hip with America, a nation of excess — always thought to be painfully gluttonous.

As usual, obesity coexists with malnutrition (which is not the same as hunger), and “south of the border” the social costs of both are a matter of very great concern. The report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study warns:

The costs of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are estimated at 2-3 percent of global GDP, equivalent to US$1.4-2.1 trillion per year.

The FAO report includes several recommendations, including clean water, sanitation, and health care in general. The agricultural base has been weakened due to urbanization. Unemployment and underemployment prevent people from obtaining food that is nutrient-dense, rather than just calorie-stuffed.

On the other side of the globe, Vietnam has managed to greatly reduce malnutrition among children. But in Ho Chi Minh City, obesity in the under-5 age group has tripled inside of 10 years. The experts there blame an excess of fat and protein, in an unbalanced diet that lacks sufficient vitamins and minerals. As in many other urban environments, the kids don’t have enough space or opportunity for sufficient exercise.

Last year in the emirate of Dubai, the Health Authority initiated a “healthy lunch box” campaign that affected 5,000 children in 80 government and private schools. This year, regular exercise is a focus, with school kids required to attend PE classes unless they have a medical excuse. There is also official encouragement for families to exercise together.

In India, just like everywhere else, overweight kids are subject to bullying at school. Consciousness is growing of the emotional trauma caused by obesity. Researchers there name the factors of environment, insufficient exercise, heredity, family influence, habit, and income. It is a culture where a chubby child is seen as irresistibly cute, and the ability to keep a child fat reflects well on the ability of parents to provide the necessities of life.

The uncredited writer also offers a charmingly eclectic list of culprits:

…that glass of milk shake with the extra dollop of vanilla ice-cream to gulp down butter smeared paranthas (Indian flatbread) for breakfast, pre-lunch snack of crunchy French fries, chicken butter masala and malai kofta for lunch, pizzas with cheese stuffed crust for evening snack.

Source: “Obesity quadruples to nearly a billion in developing world,”, 01/04/14
Source: “Mexico Becomes Fatter Than the U.S. After Adopting “American-sized” Portions,”, 12/15/13
Source: “Childhood obesity in HCM City on sharp rise,”, 06/08/14
Source: “Stricter rules for Dubai school meals to cut obesity,”, 09/04/14
Source: “If You Are a Child, Fat Does Not Mean Cute,”, 09/13/14
Image by European Commission DG ECHO

Enabling, Activism, and Child Obesity

USAG- Humphreys

Last time, Childhood Obesity News explored the idea of passive enabling, which can mean many things, such as letting obesogenic conditions continue without interference. Parents are called upon to be agents of change, but if they are not even aware of an encroaching problem, how can they feel motivated to take action? Awareness is crucial, which is why the impending end of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is meaningless. Yes, meaningless, because every month should be equally jam-packed with awareness.

Speaking of constructive parent participation, here is one example. Many children belong to sports teams, mainly soccer, and the idea that parents should take turns providing high-calorie post-practice treats is widely accepted. We mentioned the distress expressed by pediatric nutritionist Melanie R. Silverman when she hears from clients and readers who are unhappy with this ritual. She writes:

By far the most disheartening stories I hear are from those parents trying desperately to encourage their overweight or obese child to become more active. Soccer is a terrific sport for many of these kids. The pace is fast and fun and the calorie burn can be significant. But the calories burned are rendered irrelevant by the post-game snack.

According to Silverman and anyone else with a grain of sense, what generous coaches and parents ought to provide instead are food items from a very short list: “bananas, grapes, watermelon, kiwi, oranges, apples or other fresh fruit.” And water, plain water. Period. In the past, parents could blithely feed high-calorie treats to other people’s kids, but those days are over, or should be.

In a way it is sad, and some people can’t help looking back with nostalgia on the old-fashioned custom of freely dispensing cookies. Similarly, some people gaze fondly backward to the days when there were opium dens, but the nostalgia vote can’t carry that notion very far. Eventually, an equally rational attitude toward gratuitous sugar-bombs will prevail. Parents whose children currently participate in sports can be the bold proponents of a better idea.

Silverman is careful to note that she allows sweet treats for her own children on special occasions like birthdays, or when she bakes them herself at home. But that is a private decision. In the public arena, things need to be different:

Soccer leagues must take the initiative to set snack rules at the beginning of the season and enforce them with coaches and parents. An approved snack list should be provided to all parents that shows what they can bring to the field; make the list.

Clinical nutritionist Loretta Lanphier wrote a piece that is very much on point, titled “Childhood Obesity: Are You an Enabler?” in which she recommends thinking of future generations and how they will benefit from “creating a family legacy of wellness.” She casts the usual aspersions on such societal drawbacks as the existence of fast food chains and ubiquitous advertising. A particular ominous sentence is, “Some professional sports franchises have admitted that it is difficult for them to turn a profit without robust sales of food and beverages during games.” Lanphier makes a positive declaration and then asks an all-important question:

What happens in the home and the family is the strongest influence upon our children’s nutritional choices. Are you an enabler for the health of your kids, or do you model and teach a lifestyle which results in obesity?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Soccer Snack Insanity,”, 11/06/2013
Source: “Childhood Obesity: Are You an Enabler?”, 06/01/10
Image by USAG-Humphreys

Passive Enabling and Child Obesity


In the previous post, Childhood Obesity News considered the difference between active and passive enabling. During Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, it becomes clear that for a parent to be unaware is a kind of passive enabling. The goal is to bring public consciousness to the point where it is simply impossible for parents to remain oblivious to the reality of their own situation and their children’s.

One very large problem is that overweight and obesity have pretty much become the “new normal.” Perception is always influenced by the environment. When parents see their kids among classmates and friends of the same age, a lot of extra pounds become invisible because, next to a child who is 100 pounds overweight, a child who is a mere 25 pounds overweight doesn’t look so bad.

Looking into the matter

Studies of parental awareness have been done before, as Karen Kaplan explains, with mixed results. (Some parents have resisted warnings that their children are overweight because they believe the standard should not be the same across races and ethnic groups.) Researchers from three universities teamed up to look back at the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They wanted to see if parents have always been so blind to their children’s obesity.

They compared the records of two different batches of kids — some tracked from 1988 to 1994, and a comparable group tracked from 2005 to 2010. All these kids had participated in studies where their parents (usually the mothers) were asked to assess the child’s weight as “too high, too low or just about right.” All the numbers are in Kaplan’s article, and here is the gist:

A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that American parents are significantly less likely to make an accurate assessment of their children’s weight compared with parents from an earlier generation. If moms and dads don’t see the problem, they aren’t likely to be part of the solution, the researchers say.

Here is pediatric dietitian Melanie R. Silverman on the problem of post-soccer practice snacks:

To have cupcakes, candy, brownies, chips and sugary drinks brought by parents and handed weekly to our kids on the soccer fields after their games sends the wrong nutritional message…. [W]eek after week, parents complain to me from all over the country about the types of soccer snacks served in their towns. They are outraged and fed up. And they should be.

Especially disturbing are the times when athletic practice runs from, say, 11 a.m. until noon. Nobody should be having any post-practice snacks at lunchtime, or any drinks except water. Remember the old saying, “Hunger is the best sauce.” A child who has just worked up an appetite through athletic practice is a child in a position to appreciate a heaping plateful of steamed veggies or a nice salad. This might even be the opportunity to introduce some new, untried food. How sad to have it thwarted by the child being full from ingesting two doughnuts and a bottle of soda.

When parents allow a situation like this to persist, it is a kind of passive enabling that doesn’t have to continue.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “New culprit in childhood obesity,”, 08/27/14
Source: “Soccer Snack Insanity,”, 11/06/2013
Image by Warren Long

9 Ways to Avoid Enabling

charity jumble sale

We are almost to the end of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, but don’t be fooled — we need to keep that awareness level high during the other 11 months, too.

A parent might think, “What’s the beef? I never tied my kid down, stuck a funnel in his mouth, and poured in milkshakes fortified with extra calories.” And indeed, most parents never have performed such an unthinkable violation. But like aggression, enabling comes in more than one format. There’s active enabling and there’s passive enabling, or what in theology would be called sins of commission versus sins of omission.

The main thing to know about enabling is, we want to avoid it in any guise. Here, two previous posts describing “Parents as Enablers and Saboteurs” are distilled into simple “dont’s.”

● Don’t use food as a bribe to elicit good behavior.
● Don’t use food as a reward for good behavior.
● Don’t use food to win more love than the other parent gets.
● Don’t bring home junk food if your child has specifically asked you not to.
● Don’t overreact to a notification that your child is overweight.
● Don’t serve processed meals from packages.

● Don’t dismiss the idea of cooking from scratch.
● Don’t ignore a notification that your child is overweight.
● Don’t deny your own issues or addictions.

Those last three are separated because they are examples of passive enabling. About the cooking — a grownup who serves processed, packaged, and pseudo foods is actively promoting obesity, but a certain amount of passive enabling is going on at the same time. When a parent abdicates responsibility for a truly vibrant diet, overweight and obesity are passively enabled.

Just because life is already too busy with pressing demands, that doesn’t mean a parent can blow off the idea of ever learning to cook healthful meals with fresh ingredients, fewer calories, and zero harmful additives. Could it be a family project, to plan the perfect healthful Sunday brunch and shop for the ingredients? And then to go ahead and make that meal from scratch? It wouldn’t hurt to try something different, once.

As we know, Dr. Pretlow is working on the W8Loss2Go smartphone application. At one point he observed:

When I talked with the parents of the kids in our current app study, they readily acknowledged that parents enable this problem in their kids. One mother said her 10-year-old, who’s in our study, became panicky at a recent church festival because of all the food available. ‘How can I keep from eating this?’ he agonized to his mom.

What could that mother have done differently? Depending on various other factors intrinsic to family situation and environment, one course might be to avoid the church festival altogether and choose a different activity. Or, an energetic parent might join the event-planning committee and actively campaign to convert the food offerings to more healthful alternatives.

A slightly more ambitious parent might decide to make a mother/child project out of creating a festival booth to feature delicious low-calorie snacks, and give away the recipes for other families to try. A truly audacious parent might propose the radical idea of restructuring the whole event so as not to include food at all.

Solutions call for originality, “outside the box” thinking, and a willingness to abandon old habits and start new ones.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by badgreeb fattkatt

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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