What’s the data on Halloween candy? My daughter is about to turn 3, and this is the first year where I could imagine her joyfully eating a mountain of tiny candy bars. Do I need to worry about the sugar? The food dyes? The tears when I tell her she doesn’t get to eat a pile of candy the next day?
There are two angles on this question, in my view. The first is how cautious, in general, we should be about sugar and candy. The second is whether Halloween is an exception.
On the first question, this is a deep issue with many feelings on both sides. I’ve written often in the newsletter about the evidence we have on nutrition, about BMI and what it means, about weight loss drugs. I’ve talked to Virginia Sole-Smith about her work on these topics. What I can say based on all those posts is that this is a very, very fraught set of conversations.
There are two pieces of data I think are relevant. Fact one: when foods are forbidden, they become more interesting to kids. Never allowing your child cake makes cake fascinating. This is a downside of restricting particular foods. On the other hand, we have a lot of evidence that taste is formed in childhood. Exposure to a wide variety of foods and flavors makes those more palatable long-term. Kids (and other people) are usually more drawn to sugar than to vegetables. As a result, developing a taste for a variety of foods is likely dependent on some curation of how kids eat.
Putting these together, my read is that (outside of Halloween) the evidence would not support completely restricting candy, nor would it support allowing completely free rein over candy at any time. It’s a balance, which every family will find differently.
As to Halloween, though … there is absolutely no evidence that allowing a single day of unlimited candy consumption will negatively impact your children beyond a stomachache. The idea of a “sugar high” for kids is a myth (yes, your kid is a jerk after a birthday party, but that’s not the sugar, it’s the overstimulation). Red dye doesn’t make kids hyperactive (says the data). Halloween is fun. Do you have to offer unlimited candy? No. But if you do want to embrace the joy of a day of kids making themselves a little sick with mini Snickers bars, please feel supported in doing so.