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The Healthy Halloween Dilemma

How are parents, children, and the health-conscious supposed to deal with a sugar-coated holiday such as Halloween?

“What’s in your child’s candy bowl could kill them. News at 11.” Sound familiar?

Every year when Halloween rolls around we hear stories of poisoned candy, razor blades in peanut butter cups, and now be careful of fallen power lines.

While the vast stories we hear are overblown, the idea of “poisoned” candy may actually be more on point than most of us think, if you ask a number of experts in the field of childhood obesity and weight management.

Here’s a “spooky” question to consider around Halloween: How many teaspoons of sugar per day does the average American consume?

The answer? Up to 41 teaspoons! Almost one Cup per day.

That's just under 15,000 teaspoons (more than 300 Cups) in a year. Yikes.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Americans consume 156 pounds (15,000 tsp) of sugar on an annual basis. Most of the added sugar in our diets comes from prepared, or processed foods

In clinical studies sugar consumption is repeatedly linked to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, to name a few problems of epidemic proportions in the US.

When it comes to Halloween, those of us in the field of nutrition, weight loss, and health are posed with a serious dilemma: How can we in good conscious advocate the typical treats handed out to children?

The answer: We can’t.

So, how can we slide celery sticks and roasted Tilapia into the goodie-bags of gobsmacked trick-or-treaters without coming off as The-Grinch-Who-Stole-Halloween?

The answer, again: We can’t.

When you get down to it, there is no nutritional justification for Halloween and even the notion of ‘reduced-fat’ or ‘reduced-calories’ should be done away with for the holiday, and perhaps altogether.

David Ludwig, who holds a chair in pediatric endocrinology at Harvard and is the director of the Children’s Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) program at Children’s Hospital cited the 100-calorie snack packs as “public enemy number one,” in last week’s Boston Globe Magazine:

“Small portions of junk food at an even higher unit cost than large packages,  the lowest quality products around,” he calls them. “And after eating one, you feel very little satiety, so you eat two, three, four. It’s brilliant marketing with unfortunate consequences.”

Three thousand miles away, another professor of pediatric endocrinology (at the University of California, San Francisco), Robert Lustig, who also directs a weight-loss program for children - the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Clinic - has been leading a crusade against added sugar.

Look no further to his lecture on Youtube,  Sugar: The Bitter Truth, in which there have been more than 1.7 million views, to understand why table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup - the two most common ingredients you’re likely to read on your children’s Halloween candy - are uniquely contributing to our epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and a host of other diseases.

Consider: Lustig used either ‘poison’ or ‘toxin’ to describe sugar no less than 13 times in his lecture. Perhaps those urban legends of ‘poisoned’ candy are not so far off: we simply weren’t considering the most common element, sugar, poison.

Since no one wants to be the Grinch, consider making Halloween your “Free Day” and make a conscious effort to eat naturally occurring foods the remaining days of the week or month. Setting an example for your kids will have an incredible impact on how they think of these foods as treats or exceptions rather than the norm. Make it a family goal to be well below the national average of sugar consumption!

Bob Kaplan holds advance degrees in exercise physiology and business, an undergraduate degree in nutrition, is a nationally certified personal trainer, and owns four Get In Shape For Women locations in Bedford, Wellesley, Westford, and Winchester.

For more information about Kaplan's services at Get in Shape For Women in Westford, please call 978-589-0927 or visit at 142 Littleton Rd, Westford, MA  01886, or online at www.getinshapeforwomen.com for a free week trial.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tracy LeBlanc November 07, 2011 at 03:15 PM
This video is also amazing and very recent - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z5X0i92OZQ Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, in the Division of Endocrinology Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program at UCSF, speaks about the role of sugar and the contribution of biochemical, neural, hormonal, and genetic influences in the expression of the current obesity epidemic both in children and adults. Over an hour long - but very informative!!!
Bob Kaplan November 20, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Totally agree, Tracy! I actually counted the number of times Lustig referred to sugar as “toxin,” “poison,” and “evil,” for my friend’s article in the The New York Times Magazine, Is Sugar Toxic? which I recommend reading.

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