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VCH pediatrician asks parents to take control of Halloween excess

Oct. 19, 2004, 1:09 PM

Decades ago Halloween meant visiting a handful of houses, always prepared to earn a treat with a clever homemade costume and a friendly Halloween greeting. Today many families feel trick-or-treating is an exercise in excess at a time when obesity is one of the nation’s top health concerns.

"Parents need to stay involved with their children," said Paul Hain, M.D., a pediatrician with The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. "This is the beginning of the holiday season when overeating is common. Parents need to both set a good example of restraint and ensure that their kids don’t start overeating now and continue until New Years."

Hain suggests parents talk to their children in advance about how the candy will be collected and handled after trick-or-treating (see suggestions below). He says children don’t have to feel restricted if parents focus on the fun of the costumes and the community event involved with trick-or-treating.

Adults can help by planning to hand out options besides candy. Discount stores sell bags of plastic toys shaped like skeletons, bats or gargoyles for about a dollar more than bags of candy. Toy stores and science-oriented gift shops often have bins filled with small toys for a few cents each, like plastic bugs or eyeball super balls.

"Candy doesn’t need to be the focal point of Halloween," Hain said. "We can help our kids cultivate great memories without the excess by emphasizing costumes and friends and fun."

Tradition control: Make up a family tradition related to trick-or-treating

∑ Make up a funny riddle to ask trick-or-treaters who want to collect at your house.

∑ Make costumes from scratch with older children helping smaller ones.

∑ Have your child take a "shift" giving away candy at their homes.

Quantity control: Don’t let kids set out to grab as much candy as possible

  • Stick to a "one piece of candy per house" rule.
  • Set a limit of candy appropriate for the child’s age: 10 for little ones, 20 for a school-aged child.
  • Have a "family gathering." Let children walk up together, but take turns accepting one treat for the family.

Consumption control: Candy should not replace meals. allow a "treat" after dinner.

  • Have your child choose just a few pieces per day after Halloween.
  • After a few days if your child has forgotten about the candy, dispose of it.

For More Information:

Contact Carole Bartoo: 322-4747

Carole.bartoo@vanderbilt.edu

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