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Health & Parenting

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Scary Idea: Christmas at Halloween

Choice of Toys Over Candy Could Help Offset Childhood Obesity
WebMD Health News

Oct. 24, 2003 -- It's a scary thought: disappointing kids on trick-or-treat night. Who has the guts to offer anything but candy -- despite the childhood obesity problem?

Well, be brave. A new study shows many children actually choose toys over candy, when offered both.

"This may reassure adults that children will not be disappointed by noncandy treats," writes researcher Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD, a psychologist at Yale University, in New Haven, Conn. Her study appears in the latest issue of Journal of Nutrition, Education, and Behavior.

When parents impose restrictions on unhealthy foods, the efforts backfire. Children end up sneak-eating the bad stuff whenever they get a chance, fueling childhood obesity. All that Halloween candy just glorifies high-sugar, high-fat foods at the heart of the childhood obesity problem, Schwartz writes.

How to teach kids to control their own bad habits? Offer options they like -- such as toys.

Schwartz tested this theory one Halloween night, with the help of seven households in five Connecticut towns. All told, 284 boys and girls came to these doors -- and each was offered the choice of a toy or a candy.

It was glow-in-the-dark insects, funny pumpkin men, Halloween stickers and pencils vs. lollipops, chewy candies, crunchy wafers, or sweet-tarts.

Only one 4-year-old child wanted both a toy and candy. Of the rest, 135 chose toys and 148 chose candy -- numbers close enough to show the kids were equally satisfied with toys or candy, writes Schwartz.

Halloween is special, with children dressing up, walking around the neighborhood at night, and socializing with other children and adults. "Nonfood treats" may easily become a positive part of the tradition, she writes.

SOURCE: Schwartz, M. Journal of Nutrition, Education, and Behavior, July/August 2003; vol 35: pp 207-209.

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