Kids and Halloween Candy: A Recipe for Disaster
Does the thought of how your children may behave this Halloween send a chill up your spine? If you answered yes, you are not alone. Millions of other parents share this concern, too.
“If there is any holiday that parents have mixed feelings about, it is Halloween”, said Jane Hersey, National Director of the nonprofit Feingold Association (www.feingold.org), a charity that helps children with learning and behavior problems. “Parents love to help their kids dress up in Halloween costumes, but many dread they will become little monsters after eating all of that additive-filled candy”.
Is Sugar the Real Villain?
Sugar has often been portrayed as the villain behind the hyperactivity, temper-tantrums and other bad behavior that many children display after eating Halloween candy, but, recent studies have shown that the real culprits are petroleum-based food dyes like Red 40 and Yellow 5 that are found in many of these candies.
One such study is a 2011 Australian trial conducted at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology that was sponsored by the Feingold Association. This study of children ages 4 through 12 found that a diet eliminating synthetic food dyes and other additives, as well as certain foods, led to significant improvements in behavioral problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional behavior.
More evidence of synthetic food dyes’ harmful nature was provided in a major reevaluation of previous studies on diet and ADHD, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The authors of this 2013 meta-analysis concluded that a diet eliminating these dyes appeared to have “beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms”.
According to a 2013 study on the food dye, Blue 1, the negative effects of dyes in lollipops and other hard candies are exacerbated by the fact that these chemicals are not only ingested normally, but also are absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the tongue.
“We all used to laugh when children would stick out their brightly colored, blue or yellow tongues after eating artificially dyed candies. These days, however, we know that the effects of these chemicals on their behavior are not so funny”, said Hersey.
In fact, Hersey, and others, believes that the increasing prevalence of synthetic food dyes, and other additives in foods marketed to children, has contributed to the dramatic rise in childhood hyperactivity in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that one in five high school age boys, and 11 percent of children overall, have been diagnosed with ADHD, which represents a 41 percent increase over the past decade.
Recognition of synthetic food dyes’ harmful effects resulted in the British Food Standards Agency advising parents to consider eliminating these additives from their children’s diet. The European Union also issued rules requiring labels on foods containing these dyes to state that the colorings “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.
In the United States, a 2011 Food and Drug Administration advisory panel narrowly rejected requiring warning labels on artificially dyed foods, but, the recent accumulation of research highlighting these dyes’ effects on children’s behavior might lead the FDA to reconsider this decision.
Until the FDA takes such action, how can you protect your children from these ghoulish chemicals at Halloween? “Parents can plan for a healthier, more peaceful holiday by helping their kids avoid the worst of the candy and organizing activities that take the emphasis off sweets”, said Hersey.
She offers the following tips:
Feed Kids Before Trick or Treating. Feed your children before they go out to collect their candy. A full stomach is good insurance against their snacking on sweets as they go from door to door.
Choose Healthier Candy. Offer to trade healthier treats for the candies they collect. Parents can find a wide selection of natural candies and low-additive, brand-name foods in the Feingold Association’s Foodlist & Shopping Guide.
Throw a pizza party. Plan a Halloween-themed pizza party for your children and their friends. Kids could wear their costumes to the party, which could be in your home or at their favorite pizza place.
Camp out. Camp out with your children on Halloween night. Pitch a tent in the back yard, grill some hot dogs, and tell ghost stories.
Rent a Scary Movie. Make Halloween a movie night. Let your kids pick a scary film to rent and treat them to all the popcorn they want.
Give Them Toys. Toys are a great alternative to candy. Check your local dollar store for Halloween-themed items like vampire teeth, squishy eyeballs, glow-in-the-dark insects and jumping spiders.
“Halloween does not have to be a stressful time for parents”, said Hersey. “With some planning, your children won’t act like little goblins after they have taken off their Halloween costumes”!
Individual dietary needs vary and no one diet will meet everyone’s daily requirements. Before starting any new diet, check with your doctor or nutritionist.
Mickaela J. Schelleman. The impact of diet on children’s behavior problems: The relative and combined impact of the Simplified Elimination Diet and a Behaviour Parent Training program. PhD Thesis, RMIT University, School of Health Sciences, Division of Psychology, December 2011.
Sonuga-Barke et al. Nonpharmacological Interventions for ADHD: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses of Randomized Controlled Trials of Dietary and Psychological Treatments. American Journal of Psychiatry, March 2013; Vol. 170(3): pages 275-289.
Lucova et al. Absorption of triphenylmethane dyes Brilliant Blue and Patent Blue through intact skin, shaven skin and lingual mucosa from daily life products. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2013, Vol. 52: pages 19-27.
“A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise,”New York Times, March 31, 2013.
“Modernising the rules on food additives and labelling of azo dyes,” European Parliament, July 8, 2008.
“F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings,”New York Times, March 29, 2011.
Jane Hersey is national director of the nonprofit Feingold Association (www.feingold.org / 800-321-3287), which helps families implement the low-additive Feingold diet. A former teacher and Head Start consultant, she is author of Why Can’t My Child Behave? Hersey has testified before the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Congress about diet and ADHD. She frequently lectures at schools, universities, and hospitals.