Trick or treat! This Halloween, when those cute little witches, ghosts, superheroes and princesses come knocking, give them a real treat. Forget the candy — instead, hand out a treat they can enjoy without harm to their health.
Think of what you’re giving those sweet little faces when you hand out sugar-laden sweets of every kind. Candy is the tradition, but childhood diets lay the foundation for health throughout life. Both children and adults in the U.S. consume too much junk food and added sugar, putting them at risk for weight gain, depression, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.1-3
Of course, kids want candy. Manufactured sweets are designed to play into the pleasure centers of their brains so that they crave more and more. And sadly, overweight and obesity in children is becoming more and more common. The percentage of children in the U.S. who suffer from obesity has tripled since the 1970s.4 Today, about one in five school-age children in the U.S. has a weight in the obese range.5
Here’s another reason to put a brake on the candy craze: repeated exposure to excessive sweetness from added sugars dulls taste buds (in both kids and adults) to the natural sweetness of healthful alternatives like berries and other fresh fruits. This perpetuates cravings for more sweets and ultimately leads to obesity and diabetes.
My book Fast Food Genocide documents the real horrors of Halloween and our nation’s obsession with dangerous eating. There is no doubt about it: candy is essentially a recreational drug that is socially acceptable for children. In addition to chronic diseases associated with junk food, High blood glucose levels compromise the workings of the brain, and habitual high sugar intake is linked to impaired cognitive function.6 In addition to the chronic diseases associated with junk food, there is evidence that junk food is addictive, and sugar-loaded candy may act as a gateway drug, initiating brain changes that make substance abuse later in life more likely.7-9
A poor diet is an overlooked contributory factor in the development of substance abuse and violent behavior in young people. Research has linked excessive childhood consumption of candy and other sweets to violence in adulthood. Violent behavior is rare, but a 2009 study in Great Britain found that children who ate sweets daily were four times as likely to be violent by age 34.10
Patients undergoing treatment for addiction to alcohol or other drugs are typically malnourished; there is a high prevalence of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in substance use disorders.11, 12 Restoring good nutrition aids recovery from addiction: substance abuse treatment outcomes have shown improvement when nutrition education was added to the treatment program.13
Candy is a dangerous brain-altering substance and a gateway drug for more serious substance abuse, anger and violence. Halloween presents an opportunity to be a good role model. Instead of giving in to traditions, get creative about the “treats” you give away.
On this night of the year, make your own special magic: make sugar disappear from your Halloween giveaway basket! Choose a fun, clever, entertaining treat for the costumed kids who knock on your door. Here are some ideas for giveaways:
• Glow sticks, necklaces or bracelets — light them up when you hand them out so your night-time trick or treaters remain visible to cars.
• Bottled Bubbles
• Mini Play-Doh containers — let each child pick their own colors.
• Balsa wood gliders, flying discs and paddle ball games.
• Superballs, whistles or Halloween-themed bookmarks
So be a good neighbor — and be a good friend to your neighborhood kids. Start a new, no-candy tradition that will have the little ones looking forward to knocking on your door next year.