With Halloween just around the corner, little goblins and ghosts are preparing for the eeriest evening of the year. Their spooky costumes are ready and their jack-o-lanterns carved, witch cackles practiced and down to an art. But when trick-or-treaters take to the streets tonight, the most spine-chilling horror will be nowhere in sight.
That's because you'd need an angiogram to see it . The most frightful fact you'll hear this Halloween is that by the time they're old enough to walk door to door collecting candy, children in America show the precursors of heart disease. Artery-clogging plaque is already lurking in their blood. You'd never know it, but their fate has been sealed: Perhaps as many as half of all kids will eventually succumb to the country's leading killer.
The story is even scarier for obese children who, new research shows, have all the warning signs when compared to children of a normal weight: higher blood pressure, higher fasting glucose levels and insulin readings, higher triglycerides, higher total cholesterol, lower HDL ("good" cholesterol) and higher LDL ("bad" cholesterol). These are the telltale signals of a sickness that, until fairly recently, had only been seen in older adults.
Heart disease and obesity aren't the only ghouls haunting our country's children. Type 2 diabetes -- also once believed to be a uniquely adult disease -- is more common than ever in kids. As many as one in three children born at the turn of the century will be diagnosed with diabetes, and that ratio jumps to one in two when it comes to children of color.
The good news is that there are ways to keep the Grim Reaper at bay. Starting tonight, we can help our children lead healthier lives by opting for sweet and savory treats that will please even the pickiest little monsters. Instead of the regular candy bars, which are high in saturated and trans fats, make your own spooky goodies using healthful, plant-based foods. Try a new take on the classic caramel apple or whip up some ghastly tortilla chips and ghoul-camole.
Even better, take your healthy Halloween a step further by returning to the holiday's roots -- traditionally, All Hallows' Eve was a day to abstain from meat. Meat and other animal products, such as dairy and eggs, are the biggest sources of fat, calories, sodium, and cholesterol in children's diets, and animal products are linked to increased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. A whole-food, plant-based diet reduces the risk for all of these illnesses, and its near-supernatural powers can even reverse the damage that has already been done.
Of course, cutting out candy, meat, and dairy products just one day a year won't do our children any good. In the United States, every day is like Halloween -- the pressure to eat foods that make us sick is never-ending. Children are spellbound by TV advertisements for fatty fast food at home and fed mystery meat and chicken nuggets in their school cafeterias. They become zombies in a consumer culture that puts food industry profits far above their health.
But with a little creativity, holidays like Halloween could become opportunities to teach kids that healthful eating can be both fun and delicious. While we can't save them from every villain, we can cast a healthy spell that will protect them from the worst of the real world's dastardly demons.