Get the Jump on Halloween!

halloween costumes icecream

Last October, Dr. Pretlow was interviewed by another website for an article titled, “How’s this for scary, kids: Little or no candy on Halloween.” One of the interesting points made in the article was that the American Dental Association polled a bunch of kids (ages 5 through 13) and learned that well over half of them (65%) called Halloween their favorite holiday, while an even larger proportion admitted to eating too much candy at October’s end. A whopping 90% answered that they would still love Halloween if it were not so pervaded by the sweets-eating ritual.

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News reviewed several substitute activities designed to take a juvenile mind off the sugary aspect of what is, after all, a very fun holiday. Today, there is even more to say.

Prior agreements

Contrary to rumor, many children actually love clearly drawn boundaries, because they feel secure and cared for. One thing that might help alleviate trick-or-treat stress is to discuss an agreement now. It’s difficult to recommend either a lower or upper age limit for such negotiations, because kids are all different. But a parent might try to explain beforehand why having a truckload of sweets is not such a hot idea, and to arrange some kind of compromise between all the candy and no candy at all.

This might be a long-shot wild card, but some kids have the temperament or the mental sophistication to grasp surprisingly adult arguments. So try investing half an hour of family time into watching this video with your child. Titled The Dark Side of Chocolate, it’s about child slaves in the cocao (yes, that’s the right spelling) trade. It could make a difference. Another possible strategy would be to secure agreement from the child that whatever she or he collects will be divided into four piles, with three piles released into parental custody, to be returned to the child at one-week intervals.

Depending on the local environment, a parent could set a time limit, like one hour of trick-or-treat action. Or parent and child could make a plan together, mapping out ahead of time the richest route to take through the neighborhood. The more control the child has over this, the better. The greater purpose here is to put some kind of a lid on the collection of loot, and to set a precedent. If parent and child can agree ahead of time on a well-defined trip, and both come out of it feeling like winners, it sets a wonderful example for future compromise on other matters.

Halloween Night

If your child is headed out for trick-or-treat, or going to a party, make even more of an effort than usual to provide a dinner packed with vitamins in the form of fresh vegetables, and protein. And skip the dessert!

Afterwards, according to the deal hammered out earlier in the month, let the child sort the loot into four piles, or whatever the agreement was. Alternately, let him or her sort it into two piles — one of favorite brands, and the other consisting of “meh” varieties. Offer to make the less favored pile disappear, in return for a non-candy reward, or even in trade for a much smaller portion of some other, better-liked brand of sweet. After all, Halloween candy goes on sale the day after.

But the prospect of some other desired object might be even more of an incentive to turn over the goods. Sometimes, a child will eat all the Halloween candy from a sense of obligation, not even wanting it that much. If this is the situation in your home, the ambivalence can easily be parlayed into a barter arrangement.

Ask your intelligent child to research whether the dentist has signed up for Operation Gratitude, or to find a local dentist who is on board with that project. The registered dentists buy thousands and thousands of pounds of unwanted candy for a dollar a pound, and send it to American soldiers.

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.

In an interview with MyKidsHealth, Dr. Pretlow said:

Kids eat junk food because it tastes good and is readily available, but, in the process their brains develop changes to keep the behavior going, which eventually may result in being unable to stop eating the foods, i.e., an actual addiction.

If your parental intention wavers and weakens, boost it by studying up on why Jill Escher established Sugar Addiction Awareness Day. Halloween does not stand alone. It’s the kickoff for the season of the four great consumption festivals, all clustered together at one end of the calendar. By the time Thanksgiving arrives, some Halloween candies might still be rattling around in a drawer. Then it’s Christmas, and New Year, and next thing you know, last year’s clothes don’t fit — and it’s not just because of normal growth.

One final word — and it’s only a suggestion — but we might want to think twice before costuming a baby as a chili dog, taco, or hot fudge sundae.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How’s this for scary, kids: Little or no candy on Halloween,”, 10/31/12
Source: “Sugar Addiction Awareness Day to launch a healthy Halloween,”, 10/10/11
Image by EZorangeDesign.

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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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