Counterpoint: It's Not Just OK To Throw Out Halloween Candy, It's Smart

(Photo: Bren/Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo: Bren/Flickr Creative Commons)

Stashes of Reese's, plastic pumpkins spewing Skittles, cloth bags plump with Starbursts. With Halloween loot lingering in millions of American homes right now, WBUR's Cognoscenti blog asked the question on many a parent's mind: Candy has virtually no nutritional value, so is it still wasteful/immoral to simply throw it out?

In response, columnist Steve Almond, who once wrote a whole book on candy, critiques the excess of the Halloween sweet tsunami, but also comes down personally against throwing away anything edible. I'm a huge fan of Steve's writing, but disagree so sharply with him on this one — I've come to see candy as "non-food," to be chucked as serenely as spoiled meat — that I sought a response from a leading authority on childhood obesity: Dr. David Ludwig, founder of the Optimal Weight for Life clinic at Boston Children's Hospital and author of the new book, "Always Hungry?" He kindly obliged:

The recent scientific headlines are clear: with trans-fat on the wane, highly processed carbohydrates are now the main problem with the food supply. And sugar is the grand-daddy of all processed carbohydrates. Sugar is strongly linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and possibly cancer. Most children greatly over-consume sugar, setting the stage for a lifetime of chronic disease. Despite extensive efforts, childhood obesity rates remain at historic highs, and poor diet quality is clearly the leading driver.

Ultimately, we must change the culture, so that sugary treats are just that — occasional, not daily. Unfortunately, that bag of Halloween candy sitting around the house sends exactly the wrong message, and provides unneeded temptation.

Yes, it’s important to respect food, and not be wasteful, especially when some people don’t have enough to eat. But typical Halloween candy isn’t food, it’s junk, despite marketing ploys suggesting otherwise. A few nuts doesn’t counterbalance the sugar in an Almond Joy. Eating Halloween candy daily for the next few weeks is demonstrably bad for children's health. Why would we condone that?

After your child has had one or two candies from their Trick-or-Treat booty, throw out the rest (don’t give it away and foist the problem on other kids). Use the occasion as an opportunity to teach your kids a critical message: health comes first. Make a special effort right now to show them how a nutritious diet can also be tasty and satisfying. Remember, the purchase price of those candies pales in comparison to the economic and human toll of diet-related disease!

Readers? Plans for your Halloween stash? Does this change them?


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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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