Coronavirus Chronicles: The End of Halloween?

There is an old saying: “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.” The annotation to that is, you might get it in a way you didn’t expect, that turns out to be not so great. After all these years of encouraging that the annual October candy orgy should be curbed, Childhood Obesity News is seeing that wish, for the most part, come true. This year, because of COVID-19, far fewer people will be distributing Halloween treats, and far fewer children will be out there hoping to fill their plastic pumpkins.

In some neighborhoods, traditional trick-or-treating is out of the question. In others, people have come up with some amazing workarounds to preserve social distancing. They have devised clever pulley systems, or fastened decorated segments of PVC pipe to their stair rails to send candy sliding down into children’s bags.

The other half of the equation

But what about the recipients of the treats? And their adult caregivers? The question is never easy, but this time it must be incredibly difficult for parents to make the decision about trick-or-treating. Of course, some danger has always been perceived, especially when the candy-collecting journey happens after dark. A child could trip and fall, or be hit by a car. Extremely unlikely as the possibility might be, parents are always afraid that a child could be kidnapped. Although candy-tampering stories may have turned out to be urban myths, it might have happened somewhere, some time.

But this pandemic presents a whole different level of risk. A child exposed to the virus could die, or suffer a lifetime of diminished capacity in the form of organ damage. It may be as rare as the poisoning scenario, but it could happen. For families that decide to let their children go house-to-house, a cheery mom has recorded a pep talk about best practices. If you must do the trick-or-treat thing, it would not hurt to give her a listen.

Just say no to hayrides

Of course, some familiar activities should not even be considered, like indoor parties. That is a big, fat no. Apparently, hayrides have been a big Halloween tradition in various parts of America. This writer’s personal recollection of church-sponsored hayrides in the middle school years includes a closed truck filled with hay bales and hormonally-charged teenagers. Not a great idea on any level.

But what about an open wagon? Apparently, in several states, the “haunted hayride” is a thing, along with variations like spook walks, zombie farms, and haunted trails. Even though the vehicles are not enclosed and feature open air, there is still some risk. Sure, it’s fun to ride past a pretend graveyard where someone hides behind a tree and utters blood-chilling cries. But what if someone ends up in a real graveyard? In this photo from a previous year, the riders are pretty well packed in there, and the proprietor probably must carry a certain number of customers just to make the enterprise financially viable.

In Los Angeles, creative entrepreneurs have come up with an alternative — they rent a drive-in theater, where the attendees stay in their cars while scenes from horror movies are shown, and “scareactors” roam around frightening them. The admission price is steep, starting at $50 per car, which could be prohibitive for families with children. And sadly, most cities are not even equipped for such shenanigans. This Halloween, staying home is safer than most alternatives.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Halloween at a distance,”, 09/16/20
Source: “Trick or Treating Safety in 2020,”, 09/22/20
Images by USFWS Mountain-Prairie and Ben+Sam/CC BY-SA 2.0

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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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