Halloween Need Not Haunt Childhood Obesity Epidemic

10/29/2010 04:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Generally speaking, no one likes the house in the neighborhood handing out pretzels on Halloween -- unless, of course, they're coated in a deep layer of chocolate. So it stands to reason that what I'm about to say won't make me the most popular person on my block. However, with October 31 a couple days away, our parents and communities have a great opportunity to teach that healthy alternatives can be fun alternatives, along with the importance of all things in moderation.

Healthy Halloween treats don't have to be tricky -- there are many ways to provide a wholesome treats for this year's ghouls, goblins, ferry princesses, pirates and "Twilight" lookalikes. Alternatives range from kid-friendly, low-fat and low-sugar snacks to bubbles or mini coloring books.

The Chicago Tribune's TribLocal has other good tips:

1. Choose healthier treats: pretzels, fun-shaped crackers, "100-calorie packs" of popular snacks, or mini granola bars.

2. Give out something other than a food item: unsharpened pencils, stickers, temporary tattoos, mini puzzles, or little toys. Make sure to have some toys that are safe for those trick-or-treaters under 3 years of age.

3. When children arrive home, offer a "trade-in" program for some of their candy for money or other prizes.

4. Have the children pick their favorite types of candy to save and share the rest.

5. With the candy that they want to keep, set rules with how much they can have each day for a treat, and when they can have it.

Halloween candy should be considered a "treat" which is not eaten at every meal and is consumed in small amounts.

Outside of these healthful alternatives, Americans will spend nearly $1.8 billion on Halloween candy this year. As rates of childhood obesity continue to climb, we owe it to our children to re-prioritize. Nearly one in three children are overweight or obese in the United States, causing them to face a lifetime full of chronic disease stemming from obesity, and--for the first time-- an even shorter lifespan than their parents.

Another unfortunate and not-so-sweet reality is that, at the same time, our annual obesity-related medical costs are up to $168 billion. New reports out in the past week suggest that:

Nearly 17 percent of U.S. medical costs can be blamed on obesity, according to new research that suggests the nation's weight problem may be having close to twice the impact on medical spending as previously estimated.

One expert acknowledged that past estimates likely low-balled the costs and said the new study -- which places obesity-related medical costs at around $168 billion -- probably is closer to the truth.

Cutting down on high-fat, high-sugar Halloween treats won't be a silver bullet in solving our obesity epidemic; but providing nutritious treats this year can help teach important lessons in healthy eating, making conscious and nutritious choices and portion control. Those are lessons that can impact our children's health now and throughout their lifetime.

The Campaign to End Obesity wishes everyone a safe, healthy and happy Halloween. And to the kids in my neighborhood, I hope you'll indulge me and give the pretzels a try!