If you are looking for a holiday tradition that has lost any semblance of common sense, look no further than Halloween. Today, it has few redeeming qualities.
Let’s focus on only the health issues associated with children consuming ridiculous quantities of junk. Halloween candy comprises the lowest quality food on the market — cheap, sugary chocolate bars, chewy treats, hard candies, salty chips, soft drinks, and who knows what else — all questionably packaged, and gleefully handed out to unsuspecting youngsters as if it were the best thing on Earth. What a crock!
Mary Poppins sang that a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” but that should be a rare occasion. Today, I see children spooning far more than that into their mouths on a daily basis. Come Halloween, it is scary what children consume.
I don’t seek to be a spoilsport, depriving children of a holiday they most anticipate. But we must do better in safeguarding their health interests. The last thing we should be delightfully teaching our children is to mindlessly fill their pillowcases — yes, for many it is that much candy — with the stuff that will cripple their chances for a long and healthy life. To the contrary, we should be teaching them to despise the whole endeavour, and to be much more thoughtful about what they should demand when they knock on a door yelling “trick or treat.”
Here are my suggestions:
Parents: Talk with your children and help manage their expectations for Halloween’s after-dark exploits. Go door to door with you kids and don’t be random or rushed where you go. It’s quality social interactions with neighbours that should be celebrated, not the quantity of candy collected.
Grandparents: Reinforce the message that we should spend more time on having fun than hurting our health. Join your grandkids for the walkabout. It will be good for the kids. It will be great for your health to walk about too.
Kids: Do your research. You have the tools like never before. Know that there are 30 grams of sugar in 1.4 ounces of Skittles. That’s about 2.5 tablespoons of sugar per 3 tablespoons of Skittles, or the amount you put in one hand.
Teachers: Spend time discussing the issues with students. Don’t parade costumes around the gymnasium. Give children the education they need. Teach them about the consequences of obesity. Tell them how hard it will be for them to get a job when their teeth are missing, or how much it will cost to replace a tooth.
Doctors: Be role models. You carry great responsibility. Explain to children that they have autonomy over their own health, but that it requires hard work. Make sure they know that they must start young to develop the habits that will serve them well for a lifetime.
Companies: Be responsible. If you are producing products that you know are harmful, then get out of that business, or better, be a leader within it and sunset such products while building new healthier lines.
Retailers: Be creative with the spaces in your stores where you know parents and children are influenced. Imagine how you can direct purchasing power along new healthier avenues. Remove the candy from your checkout lanes and refill the space with thoughtful gift items that children could deliver to lonely residents in their communities. Work with parents to reshape the nature of Halloween.
Activists: Demand accountability and challenge those who profit by inducing Type II diabetes in our children. Devise usable, evidence-based decision-making toolkits and communication campaigns. Help families and communities craft alternative fun.
Determining the historical and cultural significance of Halloween is not for me. My job is to advise on matters of health, and I can say with confidence that this holiday needs an overhaul.
Dr. Ken Walker (Gifford-Jones) is a graduate of the University of Toronto and The Harvard Medical School. He trained in general surgery at the Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester, Montreal General Hospital, McGill University and in gynecology at Harvard. He has also been a general practitioner, ship’s surgeon and hotel doctor. Sign up for medical tips at docgiff.com, and take a look at the new web site.