With obesity on the rise, question of Halloween candy crops up

With obesity on the rise, question of Halloween candy crops up
(By Rachel Roubein/Times Staff Writer, Carroll County Times)

Pumpkins and witches, superheroes and villains will wander around neighborhoods ringing doorbells.
"Trick or treat," they'll say, holding out a small bucket or perhaps a large pillowcase expectantly. And if the homeowner is abiding the Halloween ritual, they'll drop a piece of candy or two into each bag.
But there's a healthier route to passing out sugar-coated or chocolate-covered goodies that some people are taking.
About 17 percent of children and adolescents between 2 and 19 years old are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and two local nutritionists said there are several measures parents can take to promote moderation and health on Halloween, the night of candy indulgence.
"You don't want to take the fun out of the holiday, but you do need to teach them balance," said Elisabeth D'Alto, an in-store nutritionist at Martin's Food Markets in Eldersburg. "Yes, you can have your candy, but let's make sure we're spreading it out throughout the day."
The 158 million Americans expected to celebrate Halloween will spend more than $2 billion on candy for this year's holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. Before shelling out the cash to buy these treats, parents should take a hard look at what they're purchasing.
"What would you want your kid to eat?" D'Alto, a registered dietician, said parents should think about. "When your kids come home, and you empty out the pillowcase of candy, what are you separating out? What are you keeping?"
Parents can always stick with buying mini-sized treats, a candy with a built-in portion control. Or they can snag healthier options, such as low-fat granola bars, 100-calorie snack packs of nuts, trail mixes, raisins, pretzels and more.
There's also the non-edible route, filling treat bags up with items like stickers, erasers and pencils, said Darlene Flaherty, Carroll County Health Department nutritionist.
And placing other parental controls over Halloween can help keep the spirit of the night alive - just in moderation.
"Sometimes you see kids with bags of candy that are as big as they are," said Flaherty, a registered dietitian.
So, parameters can be set: how many houses the child visits, the size of their trick-or-treat bag, how much candy they're allowed to eat and a dinner or snack before the night even begins.
"You don't want kids to grow up and have a bad relationship with food," D'Alto said. "It's all portion control. A piece of candy never hurt anybody - it's the amount of candy over time that's led to where we are today."
That's the philosophy of Samira Kawash, the author of "Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure."
"Halloween is just not about the healthy snacks," she said. "It's really about the overindulgence and the over the top."
Her theory is this: Rather than telling the children what to do with their candy, let them eat it. Maybe they'll have a stomachache, she said in an interview, but that's how they'll learn.
And after trick-or-treating, parents can have a conversation with their children about the possibly gobs of candy they received. Sit down with them and spread out the treats, said Kawash, who calls herself a cultural historian.
"Here's this candy. It's yours. How do you think you should consume this in a way that seems sensible?" she said as an example of a parent talking to their child after a night full of trick-or-treating.
It's about empowering children to make decisions for themselves.
"Trusting our kids to solve problems and talking to them about why it is a problem to have 16 pounds of candy laying around their bedroom," she said.
Because completely restricting sugary treats can actually be harmful in the long run as the appeal of the forbidden item increases, according to D'Alto.
"Balance is key," she said. "Don't make any one thing off-limits because you'll end up craving it and overeating it."
The day of Disney princesses and ghouls, firefighters and police officers roaming the streets is just one day a year.
"It's not about Halloween," Kawash said. "It's about a lifetime of learning and what are the lessons that you're teaching your kid."

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