What's really scary? Obesity

Treat-size EnviroKidz Chocolate Crispy Rice Bars, $4.99 for 21, are gluten-free, low in fat and sodium, and made with whole grains and without pesticides. One percent of sales are donated to nonprofits that benefit habitat, endangered species, and youth education.
Treat-size EnviroKidz Chocolate Crispy Rice Bars, $4.99 for 21, are gluten-free, low in fat and sodium, and made with whole grains and without pesticides. One percent of sales are donated to nonprofits that benefit habitat, endangered species, and youth education.

Halloween alternatives to fat-laden candy are lighter treats, all-natural snacks, and nonfood fun.

Posted: October 27, 2011

Loony as it sounds, it once seemed like a good idea to dress our children in bedsheets with slits for their eyes and send them out after dark to beg candy from strangers.

There was an unspoken trust associated with trick-or-treating - an innocence that evaporated in the 1960s with the first reports of razor blades hidden in candy apples. The reports were unfounded, but the hysteria persisted. After that, candy was X-rayed in hospital emergency rooms and anything not factory-wrapped was verboten.

And now comes a new threat - a proven peril that threatens to change the twisted face of Halloween again: childhood obesity.

The number of dangerously obese youngsters has tripled since 1980, and now is near 20 percent among 6- to 11-year-olds, in the prime trick-or-treating years.

The Institute for Applied Biomedicine, a California-based nonprofit, estimates the typical trick-or-treater receives more than 5,000 calories worth of candy on Halloween, the equivalent of a pound and a half of fat.

"I don't want to sound like the Grinch because I certainly love chocolate as much as the next guy," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"Halloween should be fun for kids," Wootan says. "It only happens once a year and candy is a part of it."

But the number of Halloween celebrations to which a school-age child is exposed, at school and at home, has become extravagant, she says. And serving food is taking the easy way out.

"What about giving kids an extra recess, or reading a scary story, or making slime?"

The folks at GreenHalloween.org say they are itching for an "eek-o-friendly revolution," suggesting less-sugary treats such as raisins, pretzels, animal crackers, and mini-juice boxes; or inedible treats such as pencils, erasers, temporary tattoos, or stickers with a Halloween motif, even tiny containers of Play-Doh.

Car accidents, flammable costumes, choking hazards, and allergic reactions were always more of a threat than tainted candy, says Joel Best, a University of Delaware sociologist who jokes about being the world's leading expert on poisoned Halloween candy.

"In my own research, I have been unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating," says Best, whose research makes a compelling read at joelbest.net.

To this day, we can't give kids fresh fruit on Halloween. Pity, because the beneficiaries of the tainted-candy myth are shopping malls that bill themselves as meccas for "safe" trick-or-treating; and the manufacturers of cheap candy that may or may not be produced under ethical conditions.

Some snack makers, hip to hot issues, offer all-natural alternatives with higher price tags.

Pirate's Booty Aged White Cheddar baked rice and corn puffs are gluten-free, made in Sea Cliff, N.Y., and come in bags of 20 for $6.99. Froose all-natural gummy snacks, developed by Philadelphia native Denise Devine and made in Media, are sweetened with beet sugar and use turmeric and fruit juices to add color; $3.75 for five. EnviroKidz Chocolate Crispy Rice Bars come in packs of 21 for $4.99.

The widely available array of glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces go for as little as $5.99 for 100 (glowuniverse.com), and have an added advantage - no tempting leftovers that add to your own calorie count.

 


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211, dmarder@phillynews.com, @marderd on Twitter. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder.

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