Updated: Nov 3
I recently watched a video where a prominent doctor described sugar consumption as the leading cause of Alzheimer's disease. I thought the video was interesting but also made me concerned for the health of my kids and their friends as Halloween approaches. Are we feeding our children's unhealthy addiction to sugar?
Negative Health Consequences of Eating Sugar
Sugar is a delicious and addictive substance, but it is also important to be aware of the negative health consequences of eating too much sugar. Sugar can lead to a number of health problems, including:
Tooth decay: Sugar is the primary cause of tooth decay. When sugar is eaten, it reacts with bacteria in the mouth to form acids. These acids attack the tooth enamel, leading to cavities and tooth decay. If no added sugars are consumed the likelihood of developing tooth could be nearly eliminated.
Obesity: Sugar is a high-calorie food that can contribute to obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. I once heard a pediatric cancer doctor say in a video: "We don't allow sugar to be fed to our cancer patients because we want them to live!"
Heart disease: Eating too much sugar can increase the risk of heart disease. Sugar can raise blood triglyceride levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Type 2 diabetes: Eating too much sugar can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body does not produce enough insulin or is not able to use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to use sugar for energy.
Other health problems: Eating too much sugar has also been linked to other health problems, such as high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, and Alzheimer's disease.
Artificial Colors and Dyes: Many candies not only have a lot of sugar but other artificial colors in them that can be harmful.
So if sugar is so bad what should I do as a parent for Halloween or in other circumstances where we want to provide food or a reward for good behavior?
Alternative Ideas for Halloween Treats and Rewards
As a dentist in Herriman I am torn this time of year. I love Halloween and I want my kids to have fun experiences but I also don't want to contribute to the growing public health problem of sugar addiction. There are many healthy and fun alternative ideas to candy that can be given away to children for Halloween and other special occasions or to reward them for good behavior in school. Here are a few ideas:
Healthier snacks: There are many low sugar snacks that could be given out instead of candy: Small bags of chips and pretzels are not a health food but arguably may be a bit healthier than candy.
Non-candy toy prizes: There are many non-candy treats that children will enjoy, such as small toys, stickers, temporary tattoos, play dough, stretchy toys, slime, finger puppets, Pokémon cards or baseball cards, plastic or rubber insects, snakes, or lizards, Minecraft toys, etc. Update a few days after Halloween 2023: The Pokémon cards were a popular hit this year according to my son and his friends.
Glow Sticks for Halloween: Glowsticks or other glow toys have a dual benefit for trick or treaters. Kids love them and they help keep them safe from cars on a dark Halloween night. The only downside is that they generally only last one night. If you are the type of person who gives out king size candy bars you can even get the big fancy foam glowsticks that are about $1 each on Amazon. One year I dressed up as a Jedi from Star wars and passed out little glow sticks as "light sabers."
Money: I saw this idea on an article and thought it was interesting. Some kids might get excited about a quarter or a dollar instead of candy for Halloween. Money/coins is also a good option to put in Easter eggs instead of candy.
Water! Liquid Death bottled water could be a great Halloween themed beverage water for teenagers. Also chilled mini water bottles could be a great thing for little thirsty trick or treaters who need a drink of water to wash down all the sugar--especially if it is a warm evening.
Activities: Experiences can also make great treats or rewards for children. Some ideas include tickets to a movie or museum, a trip to the park, or a playdate with a friend--these would usually be used for a reward for something bigger rather than for Halloween but it is something to consider rather than giving kids more sugar.
Random White Elephant Prizes: If your finances are tight kids might appreciate little stuffed animals or other toys you have around your house that would end up going to the thrift store donations anyway. Just make sure anything you give is clean and safe for kids.
How to Choose the Best Alternative Treats or Rewards
When choosing alternative treats or rewards for kids, it is important to consider their age, interests, and dietary restrictions. It is also important to make sure that the treats or rewards are safe and appropriate for the occasion. For example, if you are giving out treats for Halloween, you may want to choose items that are individually wrapped and easy to eat. If you are rewarding a child for good behavior in school, you may want to choose something that is educational or creative. No matter what alternative treats or rewards you choose, make sure that they are something that children will appreciate and enjoy.
I have a complicated relationship with sugar. On the one hand I love sugary treats and I grew up enjoying them but knowing the major negative health consequences associated with eating too much sugar it's worth fighting to help our kids become less addicted to sugar than I was. It is important to be aware of these risks and to make healthy choices for yourself and your children. There are many healthy and fun alternative ideas to candy that can be given away to children for Halloween and other special occasions or to reward them for good behavior in school. At Copper Mountain Dental in Herriman, Utah we believe that it is worth the effort to help our kids be healthy.