Obesity Festivals — Same Stuff, Different Day

The sad reality is that most holiday treats are composed of the same ingredients, rendered into different shapes and dyed with holiday-specific colors. Sure, some of the ingredients are actual food — like wheat, soy, milk, eggs, peanuts, and sesame, all of which can cause adverse reactions in some segments of the public. Then there are ingredients that, while strictly speaking, are edible, are not food in any sense of the word. A type of artificial vanilla flavoring extracted from wood comes to mind, along with another that is derived from oil. Apparently, there are growth hormones in chocolate that kids would be much better off without.

The biggest culprit of all, sugar, is of course associated with not only obesity but diabetes. In a lot of candy, the sweetness comes from sugar beets, which are specifically bred to be compatible with the herbicide Roundup, which is right up there on the list of suspected carcinogens. Then, there are corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, and soybean oil.

One variety of artificial vanilla flavors is derived from oil. Another kind comes from wood. Also found in sweets is coal tar, a substance whose components have not even been fully identified. The food dye known as Yellow #2 has been linked to malfunctions of the nervous system that resemble Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and lead to learning disabilities and even violent behavior.

The sinister roll call includes lab-created potions, monoglycerides, TBHQ, PGPR, BHT, and several other alphabetical mystery substances. A preservative called tertiary butylhydroquinone is suspected of causing asthma, allergies, and dermatitis. Holiday candy might contain trace amounts of carcinogens like mercury, lead, and arsenic. An imposing variety of food additives and environmental toxins cause adverse reactions, including cancer, in people’s bodies, and plenty of them are also linked to obesity in complicated ways.

Even “natural flavors” are suspect, as they can include animal secretions, crushed insects, and other natural ingredients (Of course, it could be argued that mercury, lead and arsenic are also natural.)

When the American Dental Association did a Halloween Consumer Study, they learned that nine out of 10 kids would still like Halloween if the candy aspect were muted and the opportunities for other types of fun were increased. Dr. Pretlow’s inquiries have established that the two parts of Halloween that kids dig the most are dressing up, and the trick-or-treat process itself, not even necessarily the candy that accrues from it.

Many alternative thinkers suggest that, rather than trying to pinpoint all the holiday edibles that potentially cause harm, the celebrators of Halloween might prefer to concentrate on little gifties like plastic tarantulas, Halloween pencils, temporary tattoos, stickers, glow-in-the-dark items, pinwheels, rubber balls, and little jars of bubble-blowing soap. As a treat, we have suggested taking a couple of quarters and wrapping them in orange tissue paper tied with black ribbon.

But this gift-wrapping idea, and many of our other suggestions for celebrating the October holiday, are all so time-consuming! On the other hand, what little kids value the most is face time with a parent, whether bundling up quarters for distribution, dressing up the family dog, or whatever else might focus the parent’s attention on doing something with the child. And that’s not nothing.

Here is a fictitious peek at what could happen: “My Halloween, by Curly: a Suggestive Fiction.” Also, for more in-depth coverage, consult our “Halloween Roundup, Continued.”

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

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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