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, 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

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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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