Ahhhh October…the kickoff to the holiday season and
arguably the sweetest time of the year! A time when children look forward to dressing up and gathering candy by the bucketload and devouring their fill much to the chagrin of their parents. But with the rising childhood obesity epidemic, many parents have concerns with the amount of sugar and calories kids are consuming. And rightly so! On the world stage, childhood obesity has increased 8-fold since 1975. (Weihrauch-Bluer, 2018) According to the CDC, rates of childhood obesity in the United States are sharply on the rise with over 13 million children, including 1 in 5 adolescents between 12 and 19, being classified as obese. (2019) Certain cultures tend to have a higher risk as well. The CDC also reports that the rates of childhood obesity among black children is 22% and is even higher for Hispanic children at more than 25%! (2019)
Childhood obesity is a prelude to other health issues and is one of the biggest public health concerns in modern society. Multiple studies reveal that the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity is associated with emergence of other serious health conditions previously considered to be “adult” diseases including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and cholesterol concerns. (Kumar, 2017) A leading contributor to the development of obesity and its accompanying health concerns is sugar. An ample evidentiary base is growing, including large-scale epidemiological studies,+ indicating that sugar is a direct contributor to metabolic diseases independent of a positive energy balance. (Oliveira, et al. 2020). This means that even without over consuming calories, consuming an excess of sugar itself can contribute to the development of metabolic diseases.
So with the month of October full of festivities like Dia de los Muertos, Halloween, Canadian Thanksgiving and several religious observances, many of which span multiple days and include copious amounts of food and treats, what can we do to encourage children to engage in healthy eating behavior and make positive lifestyle choices yet still allow kids to enjoy the activities during this time? Here are 5 ways to support kids in living their best life during this festive time but not going overboard with treats and unhealthy choices.
1. Get Moving!
Taking opportunities to make movement a part of daily life is an important step in teaching healthy lifestyle choices. When going trick or treating, walk instead of drive- just be sure to wear comfortable shoes and take appropriate safety measures like using flashlights or glow sticks for visibility. Dance the night away at family gatherings or participate in traditional dances to celebrate. Participate as a family in a fun run or virtual sporting event. Learning to incorporate movement into daily activities is a key ingredient in long-term health.
2. Bring on a Visit from the Switch Witch!
After a night of trick or treating, having bucketfuls of candy can be overwhelming and tempting! As with most things, out of sight means out of mind. Allow kids to pick 5 pieces of their favorite to have that night and enough for two pieces a day for the next week or two (until the novelty wears off) then get the rest out of sight. If age appropriate, kids can help decide what to do with the excess candy. There are a number of options of what to do with it:
• Save it for filling a birthday piñata;
• Use it in holiday baking;
• Donate it to a homeless shelter, food bank, first responder station, or non-profit like Operation Gratitude to be sent to soldiers serving overseas;
• “Buy” the candy back in exchange for tokens or coupons to be used for fun activities like a trip to the zoo, an arcade, the movies, or another fun activity they enjoy;
• Plan a visit from the Switch Witch! Children put out their extra candy and the Switch Witch takes it, leaving a gift in its place.
3. Fill up First!
In spook-tacular October style, many celebrations and activities occur in the evening hours. It’s a good idea whether heading out to trick or treat, for a night on the town, or to a party or gathering to provide kids the opportunity to fill up on the healthy stuff before heading out. Consuming a robust, healthy and balanced meal with vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein will not only supply them with the wholesome energy needed to maintain their energy but the fiber, fat, and protein will curb their appetite for sweets and unhealthy snacks.
4. Embrace Non-food Centric
There are plenty of festive fall activities that don’t revolve around treats. Take time to enjoy other events that don’t involve food. Head out to a pumpkin patch to pick the perfect pumpkin then bring it home and carve it into a jack-o-lantern, take a trip to the costume store, learn about your family history, listen to abuela tell stories about her life growing up and the people she was close to, decorate the house, play in a pile of leaves, go on a hay ride…
5. Celebrate Everyday Healthy Habits!
The October sweets and treats festivities lead straight into November which has been designated by the American Heart Association as Eat Smart Month and encourages Americans to take the first step to commit to healthier eating. Take this time to talk with your kids about the importance of making daily healthy choices in their foods and lifestyle. Help plant the seed that it is what we do on a consistent basis that matters more than what we do once in a while and that indulging from time to time is nothing to be ashamed of. Remember that overall health and happiness rests on more than just a few days.
Andrea Pryce, N.D., received her baccalaureate degree from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and is a 2006 graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. Following completion of her N.D. degree she went into private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has a strong background in biomedical research with significant experience in both bench top and field research. She has worked as a bench top research associate performing genetic oncology assays for a major biomedical research foundation. Additionally, she served as a project coordinator for a homeopathy study co-conducted by the Southwest College Research Institute and the University of Arizona’s Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. She maintains a research interest in the epigenetics and nutrigenomics particularly as they relate to oncology. In 2009, she moved to Florida and began working at Life Extension in Fort Lauderdale where she was Medical Editor for their monthly magazine. Dr. Pryce joined the faculty at Hawthorn University in April of 2014 and also serves on the faculty of Everglades University. She has recently joined the team at the Integrative Health Institute in Boca Raton, Florida.
Weihrauch-Blüher, S., Schwarz, P., & Klusmann, J. (2019). Childhood obesity: Increased risk for cardiometabolic disease and cancer in adulthood. Metabolism, 92, 147-152.
Kumar, S., & Kelly, A. S. (2017). Review of Childhood Obesity. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 92(2), 251-265. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.09.017
Childhood Obesity Facts. (2019, June 24). Retrieved October 24, 2020, from
Oliveira, D. T., Fernandes, I. D., Sousa, G. G., Santos, T. A., Paiva, N. C., Carneiro, C. M., . . .
Guerra-Sá, R. (2020). High-sugar diet leads to obesity and metabolic diseases in ad libitum -fed rats irrespective of caloric intake. Archives of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 64(1), 71-81.