BOO! Wake UP!

Ahh Halloween is upon us again. What a nostalgic time for parents. Pumpkins, hayrides, and apple picking. Memories of dressing up in costume, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and oodles and oodles of goodies and treats. Halloween parties galore! At school, at home, and at the neighbors! Wonderful memories and experiences that we eagerly and excitedly want to pass on to our children. I mean, why wouldn’t we? Our kids should be able to go door-to-door and stuff their faces with candy and chocolate and cookies just like we did when we were young. Halloween is a tradition, people. One day out of the year spent supporting and encouraging poor dietary habits amongst our children can’t harm them, right?

The problem is that for most children in the US it’s not just one day, it’s every day. Every day our children are bombarded with ads for crap food and sugary drinks. Fundraisers at school for cookie dough, frozen pizzas, potato chips, and chocolate candy. Sponge Bob and Dora spewed all over every fruit gummy treat in the store. Colored food products targeted to children around every corner. From popsicles and colored goldfish crackers to Fruit Loops cereal, yogurt, and M&M’s. The brighter the better, right? For marketing, yes. For our kids’ health, not so much.

Recent studies linking food coloring to hyperactivity and ADHD in kids is causing some experts to call on the FDA to ban foods containing them – or at least require a warning label. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) says the dyes are a “Rainbow of Risks” for children and can cause allergic reactions, hyperactivity, and even cancer. I must point out that 1 in 17 children have allergies in the US, 1 in 10 have ADHD, and 1 in 5 are obese. Despite those concerns, manufacturers put about 15 million pounds of eight synthetic dyes into our foods each year, according to the group. Per capita consumption of dyes has risen five-fold since 1955, thanks in part to the proliferation of brightly colored cereals, fruit drinks, and candies pitched to children.

Paralleling these findings, between 2001 and 2007, the number of 2-to-5-year-olds on anti-psychotic medications for behavioral problems doubled. A 2007 study found about 1 in 70 preschoolers was taking a psychotropic drug such as a stimulant, an antidepressant, a mood stabilizer, an anti-psychotic, or an anti-anxiety drug. According to the  National Institutes of Health (NIH): About 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 has some sort of mental disorder, be it anxiety, mood, or disruptive behavior disorder. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that for the first time in two centuries, the current generation of children in America may have shorter life expectancies than their parents.

Honestly, I think our children deserve better. Countries in the European Union (EU) have banned most dyes and require labeling of foods containing particular synthetic dyes linked to behavioral problems in children. The Mars Company has removed all artificial dyes from Starburst Chews and Skittles, and has begun removing all dyes from M&M’s in the UK, but not in the US. Requests for a UK ban followed more than three decades of growing science associating exposure to food additives with a heap of potentially serious problems in children including not only hyperactivity, but also cognitive disturbances and compulsive aggression; asthma, hives, and allergies; and irritability and poor sleeping habits. Many usable alternatives clearly exist, but the US hasn’t decided to take action just yet. I wonder how many more chronically ill children it will take before the FDA steps up in this country?

Not just on Halloween this year, but every day ask yourself how you can contribute to creating a healthier environment for our children. Start with avoiding synthetic dyes by reading labels and choosing organic products. Organic standards prohibit the use of these dyes in products bearing the USDA Organic label and use natural food colorings from beets, carrots, seaweed, spinach, grapes, turmeric, and blueberries. Oh and…

BOO! WAKE UP! The kids are counting on you!

to. happy. healthy. days. ahead.

47 thoughts on “BOO! Wake UP!

  1. So what will you be giving out to the trick or treaters organic mommy?! Unfortunately your dead on about it being everyday that the children of our country stuff themselves with sugar, processed and additive filled crap. Why if we supposedly live in the greatest country in the world are we so far behind in oh so many categories?! Keep up the great enlightening posts and getting the message out!

    • Thanks Lauren! I don’t know what I’m going to hand out yet. Probably Yummy Earth suckers or gummy bears. What about you?

  2. We are handing out honey stick (big kids) and play doh to the little ones. I will allow my 3.5 yr. old to exchange his bag of candy for a toy of his choice. I feel like I have to fight the world of junk food every day. But it’s worth it!

    • I like the exchange for a toy idea. I didn’t grow up in North America, whereI now live, so I am somewhat new to this tradition. This post and thread are helpful in picking up some useful tips on how to handle my 3 year old’s treat demands :-)

    • One year, back in Brazil, we handed out the mini-packs of California raisins… I glued a Halloween pic (dracula, ghosts, witches, etc), that were meant to be used for candy suckers (popsicle), to the back of the raisin pack… kids loved it! It’s a suggestion! :o

  3. You are so right. It’s unbelievable what is put in the food our children eat. Some companies are doing the right thing. The company that makes the candy, Necco, stepped up and made them natural which was great. THEN they changed their minds and now will put the dyes, etc. back into them!

    Fortunately, there are candies free of the dyes, artificial flavorings. And there is a terrific support organization for people aiming to choosing foods free of these harmful additiives. It’s called the Feingold Association: http://www.feingold.org

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  7. I have just one minor contention with this post… The idea that eating habits are directly connected with obesity is common, widespread… and wrong.

    While it’s true that if you eat McDonalds daily and stuff yourself with sugary junk, you’re likely to put on significant weight, it’s not true that obesity is usually (or hardly ever) caused by bad eating habits. The person who gains weight through bad eating habits is able to lose the weight by making better choices and increasing exercise. There are many people, like my ex husband and our beautiful daughter, who do not fall into that category, yet who are shamed by society for their non-existent “lack of self control” and “laziness”.

    I’ll spare the diatribe… but there’s an excellent resource at http://www.thefatnutritionist.com for anyone interested in more information on the very complex genetic roots of obesity.

    That said… We dealt with All Hallo’s Eve by letting the kids stock up on candy… then they could choose one piece a day until it was gone, no more. Was it way too much candy? Yep. But at least they weren’t stuffing themselves with sugar until they vomited. :-p
    And we got creative in the treats we handed out…. The $1 store sells all kinds of nifty little toys and party favors that were perfect for treat bags. These days my kids are teens, and they still love Halloween- but more for the chance to dress up and create elaborate costumes than for the candy. lol

    Happy trick-r-treating. :)

  8. This is huge! You’re right on and this needs to be more of a hot button issue here in the U.S. Halloween has even changed from when I was a kid – of our “treats” from the evening, we would get one piece of candy per day, sometimes our stash would stretch out for months. Even then, we probably had way more than is good for us. But lately it seems like kids get tons of candy and other sweets all the time, any day. And it’s no wonder, between the sugar and the synthetic ingredients, why there are so many health issues cropping up. Even if the FDA doesn’t step in right now, it’s huge to learn how to read labels and start making good choices. So glad you put this out there, I learned something new and hopefully it’ll helpful for other people too! :)

    • Some of the parents of the students in my class make a deal to buy back the candy after Halloween. The parents let the kids have fun Trick or Treating, have a little bit of candy that night and then the parents buy it back. Then the kids would go to buy something they wanted. In this way the kids get to have the experience and creativity of Halloween but not the overwhelming introduction of candy into the diet. Halloween and the day after are wasted “educational” days between the excitement and anticipation followed by the late night and candy, the kids are a wreck. To all the teachers out there…I understand, the day will be over soon. :)

  9. Costco sells the mini playdoh tubs. I tried it last year and it wasn’t really popular :( But I had enough left over to use them for my son’s birthday party loot bags so it worked out! A friend of mine who lives in a different neighbourhood says that her trick-or-treaters love the playdoh so it’s worth a try. Anything to try and cut down on the junk!

  10. I honestly think the main problem is simply the enormous amount of sugar of all kinds that we’re sucking down, the majority of which most definitely happens to be neon colored. :-P

  11. Many parents even avoid playdoh as the dyes can be absorbed through the skin not to mention the clay that gets under the kids’ nails. Go to the Feingold Association Facebook page for discussions on Halloween ideas.

  12. I took my son to some wonderful Halloween activities that did not include candy recently. Tomorrow I will replace his candy with some dried fruit and the healthier not processed snacks he prefers anyway. The rest can go to the office and tossed in the break room!

  13. I like this post! I’m trying to get my family to eat healthier on a very tight budget. Food dyes are something I’m very aware of and have managed to cut down on somewhat. We’ve been pretty successful going to eating no red meat and all whole grains. It’s all baby steps!

    • Oh, I heard that! :) Eating on a budget is tough- especially when pasta is cheaper than fresh fruits and veggies!
      But on the plus side, chicken and fish are cheaper than beef… and farmers’ markets are awesome!
      Good luck! :)

  14. Love the post! Yes, food dye is so very, very bad. My sister has behavior problems when she eats food dye so now she is not allowed to eat food dye. My mom likes to buy “Healthy” candies from Earth Fare and Trader Joe’s, and after eating those it is hard to eat regular candy they are so tasty! I don’t even really like candy, only chocolate and caramel and candy canes. I hope more people realize just how bad candy is and cut down on it–lately I have been seeing articles about how many calories there are in certain candies, and what we need to limit is not the candy calorie intake, but the actually candy!

  15. Gosh this is so true. I think as parents, we need to educate our children in every aspect of their lives. We are their teachers, we are their role models. Everything that we teach to our children whether education, nutrition or family values has a positive or negative effect on their choices. I believe that trick or treating once a year is not such a big deal. As parents we must lead by example and, if our parents did not teach us how to take care of our health, I think it’s time we start doing something about it. Our children will see the change in us. I am a diabetic and in reality, everything that I eat whether organic or not, vegetables or candy is not what makes my sugars skyrocket but the amount of food that I eat and the lack of exercise. I have a niece and nephew that were both diagnosed with some kind of ADD or ADHD problem. I don’t know much about how candy or dyes affected their behavior, all I know is that we are trying to eat healthier, we are trying to be more active and we are trying to stay away from all those drugs that apparently are supposed to help but have so many side effects. I guess this is not a win-win situation. Happy Halloween.

  16. Apparently everyone uses fructose corn syrup in the states, for everything. It’s actually been banned in certain places of the world because it’s so unhealthy (found this out from a guy’s blog, Mike Geary’s his name if you want to check him out). I’d assume that it would be in almost all the halloween treats being served out. Ahh, modern life. So evolved and yet simultaneously so stupid. I’m glad FP brought me here; I think I already like your cyber home.

  17. That’s why I don’t wanna eat Rainbow Cake, Mommy *may I call you like that?* hihihiii…anytime I see rainbow cake, although many people say that it’s delicious, still, I am not interested to eat that because of its full-colour.

  18. This post is great! I have been trying to read up a lot on GMOs as well! I think it’s a challenge getting the FDA and other government agencies to do anything because a lot of them are controlled by the people who make the bad/unhealthy food. With baby number 1 on the way, I am becoming increasingly aware of the food habits we need to adopt/strengthen and instill in our child (hopefully childREN ;) ). Thanks for this information! and congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  19. What an interesting read. I was expecting a more upbeat post for Halloween, but I agree with what you said. Much of holidays and traditions revolves around trying to get the consumer to purchase goods, or to “consume”, which is another topic altogether!

    The FDA definitely should do more to actively promote healthy eating, especially considering that most people out there do not have the time, money, and willpower to eat healthy. The choice to eat healthy or not ultimately falls on the consumer. I just wish everyone would stop relying on “big brother” to make them eat healthier and blaming them for all the additives, food coloring, or whatever that exists in a lot of food. I’m tired of unhealthy and overweight people pointing fingers at others for their own demise.

    Having said this, I want to with you and everyone out there a happy, happy Halloween. It’s the one time of the year to be a carefree kid again. Let the magic happen:)

  20. I really liked this article. My kids are older, 20 – 26, and all three of them had various problems listed above. I was only nineteen when I had my oldest. I would make different choices for them now!
    I once read a really interesting story about a school where kids went who had all kinds of behavior problems. Nobody could get much out of these kids. Then the school changed its cafeteria and store options to all healthy foods, no preservatives or colours, etc. It was a boarding school, so there weren’t too many outside influences to contend with. After a few months, you could walk in on a school day and hear that normal, happy hum that you hear when kids are busy working. What a difference!

  21. This was an excellent post! I appreciate all of the research you did prior to writing about the problems many children have with their diets. I learned some new things through your post! I really like the photo that you used. All of the colors make the photo extremely beautiful, but although something looks good, we shouldn’t forget what we are putting in our bodies.

  22. Such a meaningful post, health is so important, and quite hard to obtain anything good out of those treat baskets tonight. Your dedication to show the importance of having good health for children is inspiring, and cafeterias are a disaster in schools and don’t help the obesity at all :/ look forward to reading more on your blog (:

  23. My middle child can’t have red dye. We discovered it when he was about 18 months old. He didn’t sleep for three days except in 15 minute cat naps. We have avoided it with him and our youngest ever since. It irks me to no end that the US is more about $ than health when it comes to food.

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  25. Thank you for sharing! Last year my husband was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes…since then I have stopped eating sweets and reduce my sugar intake tremendously. My 16 year old boy has stopped eating sweets as well! We all are better for it! Sugar truly is The Enemy! Thanks for sharing!!!

  26. Great post! My kids are constantly bombarded with candy – birthday parties, play dates at their friends, and even school! I now have instilled the fear of it in them, so they are learning to turn it down. Sometimes I feel like a bad mom for saying “no” to all the candy they bring home, but then I think of the harm it creates in their little bodies.

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