Will Childhood Obesity Kill Halloween?

Presidential M&M

Since First Lady Michelle Obama’s mission is to end childhood obesity, it’s interesting to note that cookies, trail mix, and “White House M&Ms” were the trick-or-treat goodies distributed at the presidential Halloween celebration, which apparently was not attended by the First Children. (The picture, by the way, is from a satirical website. If these are not genuine presidential M&Ms, please send in your photos!)

An uncredited Huffington Post article says,

The First Family got into the Halloween spirit this weekend while hosting the annual White House Trick-Or-Treat event for children from military families and local students.

Although its roots lie in pagan tradition and in Christianity, Halloween in the USA is no longer a particularly religious occasion. It might seem like a holiday of innocent fun that could safely be observed by the president and his family. But many people believe it is anti-religious. For this and various other reasons, discontent has simmered for years. Various groups of citizens have been trying to abolish or at least greatly modify the Halloween holiday as it is celebrated among the young.

No matter what happens, adults will of course continue to do as they please, and it would be difficult indeed to ban private individuals, organizations, and businesses from hosting either grown-ups-only parties and parties for kids. But it begins to look as if Halloween observance will vanish from public schools, as trick-or-treat has already largely disappeared from many American neighborhoods. Childhood obesity might be the issue that pushes Halloween over the brink into oblivion.

From Oak Lawn, IL, Lorraine Swanson reports on an attempt by local officials to tame Halloween by restricting the trick-or-treating hours even more than previously. She muses,

From registered sex offenders and schools serving salami and cheese sandwiches instead of candy corn and cupcakes, to concerns about childhood obesity and politically correct ‘fall fests,’ maybe Halloween is becoming obsolete.

Numerous parenting websites share tips about how to minimize the health damage the holiday brings. A nutritionist/dietician recommends fruit rollups as a healthy alternative to candy. Huh? Maybe that nutritionist/dietician neglected her homework. Not long ago, Fooducate published a piece explicitly titled, “Reminder: Fruit Rollups are NOT Fruit.” Identifying fruit rollups as a nutrition imposter, the author said,

Ingredient number one is sugar. They call it apple juice concentrate but it’s basically sugar. You don’t get the beneficial fiber of an apple, and many of the nutrients present in a fresh apple have long ago disappeared in the process of turning to a juice and then a concentrated form… Yes it’s 50 calories, but 40 of them are sugar!

Just for an extra added disincentive, the writer also mentions that dentists hate to see kids eating fruit rolls because they stick to the teeth so persistently. Incidentally, some dentists have become anti-Halloween activists. Anna Li reports from Mountain View, CA, that a local dentist is paying kids a $1-per-pound bounty for turning in their holiday swag. In addition to the potential for tooth cavities, Dr. Joseph Lee also cites childhood obesity concerns.

Not long ago, someone asked Childhood Obesity News how many calories a child consumes at Halloween. Here is the answer:

By visiting 15 houses, the average trick-or-treater can collect up to 60 pieces of ‘fun-size’ candy on Halloween night. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta looked at the calories, fat and sugar content of a bag of typical Halloween treats and found it to be equivalent to 4,800 calories, one-and-a-half cups of fat and three cups of sugar.

The page includes a link to the organization’s video that promises to “reveal the truth about childhood obesity and the dangers of Halloween.” Of course, a person can always take the denial route, as does Richard Rys in his recent essay, “Candy Does Not Cause Childhood Obesity.” Despite the provocative title, the author recognizes that sugar is a problem, especially too much of it all at once, but he expects parents to make reasonable rules.

Rhys says,

Feel like substituting iTunes gift cards for Butterfingers? That’ll work. Otherwise, give them candy. One day’s worth, doled out over a week or two, won’t impact their health if you’re not feeding them a Baconator Double for dinner every night. Part of our responsibility as adults should be to make sure that while we protect our children, we don’t take all the fun out of being a kid in the process.

The First Lady agrees. A couple of weeks ago, The Stir quoted Michelle Obama’s words about the presidential daughters, who are as much at risk for childhood obesity as anybody else’s kids:

Our philosophy is… if you make good choices every day… you don’t have to worry about it because you’re doing what you’re supposed to do every single day. So we really talk about daily choices that they’re making, and balance. Right? Because I don’t want them to have to worry about how much candy they eat on Halloween.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The First Family Hosts Annual Halloween Trick Or Treat Event At The White House,” The Huffington Post, 10/31/11
Source: “Trick or Toast’: Is Halloween Becoming Obsolete?,” Oak Lawn IL Patch, 10/31/11
Source: “Reminder: Fruit Rollups are NOT Fruit,” Fooducate, 05/05/11
Source: “Dentist will swap cash for Halloween candy,” Mountain View Voice, 10/31/11
Source: “Kids Consume 3 Cups of Sugar and 4,800 Calories at Halloween,” Brainerd Dispatch, 10/31/11
Source: “Candy Does Not Cause Childhood Obesity,” The Philly Post, 10/28/11
Source: “Michelle Obama Takes a Stand On Halloween Candy,” The Stir, 10/19/11
Image of Presidential M&M, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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