The Annual Childhood Obesity Challenge

Halloween decorations

Sure, it’s only mid-October, but in some retail outlets, the giant bags of Halloween candy have been filling entire aisles since Thanksgiving. So, in a way, it’s already too late. Tons of the stuff have already been sold, and taken to American homes in preparation for the yearly fructose festival.

Part of today’s intention is to suggest alternative Halloween treats — in other words, treats that do not involve sugar. The other purpose is to suggest a few ideas about how to cope with the deluge of sugar that might be taking over your child’s life at the end of the month.

Here is a columnist named Amanda Rock, who has done extensive research on the subject of this seemingly inescapable holiday and its relationship to childhood obesity:

Sure, the first thing most people think of when they hear the word Halloween is candy, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Candy, although most welcome for most kids, has to be checked and sorted through and often gets thrown out. Why not give out alternative Halloween treats this year? […] The products below can all be purchased in bulk, making them not only fun, but cost-effective.

Rock’s page goes on to link to sources where harried parents can acquire large amounts of these party-favor type items by mail order, but if your town has one of those ubiquitous “dollar stores,” there are innumerable other choices.

Other helpful online sources suggest even more fun ideas for inexpensive little gizmos to give out. Sugar-free candy or gum, individual packages of fish-shaped crackers, glow sticks, glow necklaces and bracelets, noisemakers, Halloween stickers, little rubber balls, temporary tattoos, Halloween pencils, vampire teeth, finger puppets, crayons, tiny jack-o-lanterns, little yo-yos, stamps, modeling clay, small bottles of bubble-blowing soap, masks, and even coins.

One parent made up small packages composed of a traditional candy treat, but also including a toothbrush and a miniature tube of toothpaste. On the sugar-free side, Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben compiled a list of 50 ideas.

Now, for the other side — the stuff that our own kids are tempted to eat themselves sick on. Doreen Nagle suggests preparing beforehand by talking to kids about why eating candy is not such a good idea, and by emphasizing that trying to limit it is not a punishment. Hopefully, children have already heard about dental cavities and all the disadvantages of obesity, but another reminder can’t hurt. For the day itself, Nagle says:

Make a healthy dinner before kids go out. Include protein, fresh vegetables, whole grains and a fruit plate for dessert. Let them eat as much as they are able to in order to fill their tummies with good food.

It also doesn’t hurt to do outreach, asking neighbors and teachers to get on the sugar-free bandwagon for the holiday. In fact, the ambitious parent or group of parents can co-opt Halloween by arranging a party where every aspect of the event can be controlled and monitored.

Of course, all the variables are different from family to family, but it might be possible to reshape the tradition into being mainly about the costumes. Rather than buying an outfit or throwing one together, the emphasis could be on spending real family-togetherness time on the project of creating fabulous costumes.

If your neighborhood is the kind where old-fashioned trick-or-treat patterns still exist, a parent can set a time limit, or a number-of-houses-visited limit. If you are giving out treats before or after your kids’ own neighborhood travels, make a big deal out of it. Whoever answers the door should be in costume, and the porch or hallway can be decorated and enhanced with spooky lighting or whatever else your imagination suggests. Play some spooky music.

By concentrating on the aspects of creativity, participation, and performance art, it’s possible that children might feel like it has been a very satisfying Halloween experience, even if they don’t have a sack full of candy to show for it. Some innovative parents suggest saving candies to use as tokens or prizes for playing board games, or to put away and save for a Christmas gingerbread house, which may or may not ever get made.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Alternative Halloween Treats,” Preschoolers
Source: “50 Candy Alternative Halloween Treats,” Yahoo! Voices, 10/09/07
Source: “Tricks for Halloween treats,”, 10/07/12
Image by Sarah_Ackerman.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

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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