Halloween Strategies

Halloween is acknowledged to be a very difficult time for children who are overweight or heading that way. Childhood Obesity News suggests ways to ease the stress of the situation by adopting some new “best practices“; banding together with neighbors to create a new local culture; asking schools and churches to retool their traditions; setting an innovative precedent that will make next year easier; and generally shifting the paradigm from a food holiday to an activity holiday.

We have covered the run-up to the holiday with suggestions for creating so much activity and enjoyment beforehand that the whole candy fetish loses importance and becomes not only secondary, but irrelevant. Maybe your family has already decided to distribute non-food treats, and accomplished this by letting the kids decide what will be given out instead. Maybe a tradition has already been established of skipping the trick-or-treat part altogether, and throwing a party that concentrates on theatrics and activities, rather than food. If so, congratulations!

This next section addresses the family in which going out to collect goodies is still on the menu. In this case, candy acquisition is a part of ongoing reality — but only a part. The rates of candy retention and consumption can still be impacted. If enough other interesting things are going on, it’s totally possible that agreements can be made. But you don’t want to spring anything on the kids. The ideal is to have agreements in place, and understood by all, before the event.

Agree to agree

Start by clarifying the goals, which are to put a lid on the collection of loot, and to set up some kind of rationing schedule so the sweets will not all be gobbled down at once — or maybe even swap them out for something else. Elicit a child’s cooperation in making a plan, and you’re halfway to success. When parents and kids negotiate an agreement ahead of time, everybody wins.

Of course, parents are quite justified in laying down some ground rules. For instance, on trick-or-treat night, a healthful meal will be served and vegetables will be eaten. Parents can step up and do their best to fill the children up with a good meal packed with vitamins. And, it goes without saying, skip the dessert.

As for the rest, it’s a collaboration that might take a little coaxing, and some persuasion. One suggestion is to not try to reach agreement in one fell swoop. The discussion might include a second, and even third stage. Bring it up, put it on the table, and come back to it. Sure, you want to make a change this year, but remember, the greater purpose is to set a precedent for future years and future additions to the family.

A lot depends on the kid (or kids) and the circumstances. It might be well to start as early as possible to define limits. Or maybe the better path is to wait until a certain amount of fun has been had (see the links in the first paragraph) and trick-or-treat might not seem so important. They might be ready to let it go.

Acquisition limitation

Depending on the neighborhood, environment, weather, age range, and other factors, trick-or-treating can be limited, and advance negotiation is the name of the game. The time to work these things out is when the pile of brightly wrapped sugar bombs is still theoretical. The more input a child has the higher the chance of a good outcome.

One possibility is to set a time limit of 30 minutes or an hour of trick-or-treat wandering. Again, it depends on the surroundings, because you don’t want to encourage rudeness, where kids just grab the offerings without saying “Thank you” and then run away, knocking down other merry-makers. You also don’t want to inspire reckless street-crossing, dangerous shortcuts, or other unwise methods of making the most of the time.

Another way to set a parameter is by mapping out a route beforehand. Get some exercise by walking around with the child or children before Halloween, to plan the most promising course of action. You may be familiar with the neighborhood and know from previous years who has the best goodies. The amount of spooky decorations around a home might also be a good indicator.

The goal is to make a plan, agree to it, and stick to it. Or agree to limit the potential harvest by carrying only a small bag, plastic pumpkin, or other container.

A goal to try for is, no eating while on the trick-or-treat expedition. For one thing, anticipation makes even the best rewards sweeter. Also, despite what many people see as needless hysteria about evil neighbors, it is a good idea for parents to give everything a once-over before anybody eats anything. Furthermore, if kids plan to swap with each other afterward, it would be silly to gobble down anything that might be traded for an even better treat, if only they waited.

Next: After trick or treat, what?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Cristian Iohan Stefanescu

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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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