Kids Need Healthy Food, Not Halloween Every Day

, , senior analyst, Food and Environment | October 28, 2014, 10:16 am EDT
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Most people I know—young and old alike—love Halloween. Roaming darkened streets in disguise is fun and exciting, and candy (let’s face it) is delicious. Still, you probably don’t don a zombie get-up or send your kid to school as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle every day of the year. And your kids don’t pig out on the equivalent of a respectable Halloween haul on an average day. Or do they?

It turns out that for many American children, it really is Halloween every day, at least in terms of their sugar intake. As this new UCS infographic shows, U.S. boys ages 12-19 are eating the most sugar on a daily basis:

halloween-candy-infographic

See that pile of 18 “fun size” Halloween candies? Based on the nutrition labels, it contains nearly three-quarters of a cup of sugar. Which is almost exactly the amount of sugar teenage boys are reported to have eaten, on average, every day in 2009-2010, according to the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Frightening!

Younger children and adolescent girls eat somewhat less sugar on a daily basis, but regardless of gender, age, race/ethnicity, or household income, our children are eating far too much sugar on a regular basis—kids ages 2-19 consume, on average, 124 grams of sugar per day, the amount in nearly 14 Halloween size candies. Adults are overdoing the sugar, too. And it’s not just that we’re indulging in too much candy and dessert. As former FDA Commissioner David Kessler told the Washington Post Magazine last week: “The issue is that all of our food has been candified.”

At the same time, most Americans aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. And we’re not the only ones—a recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition reports insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption and low phytonutrient intakes in much of the world.

Healthy food starts at…school?

So what can we do, here and now? A good starting place would be to improve the nutritional quality of foods kids are eating at school. Most U.S. children spend the majority of their days in school, eating lunch there and sometimes breakfast and snacks. It’s where kids form dietary patterns and preferences that often last a lifetime.

The author and her brother, Halloween 1975. What's with the mask? Who knows...

The author and her brother, Halloween 1975. What’s with the mask? Who knows…

Congress did the right thing back in 2010, passing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which removed vending machine junk food and mandated more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in school meals. But as I wrote last June, special interests and their allies in Congress are seeking to roll back that progress just when we need to build on it.

Tell Congress: Keep investing in healthy school food for kids!

Just as we did when we were kids, my colleagues and I here at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ will celebrate a fun holiday this week by indulging in the sweet stuff. But when Halloween is over, we’ll return to our senses and our healthy diets. Tell Congress to do the same for America’s kids at www.ucsusa.org/halloweeneveryday.

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  • katie mcglenn

    We must consider HOW people are eating, not just WHAT. Rushed school lunches mean that foods that are fast to eat are often consumed first. Give a kid an apple and no time to eat it and you’re just creating food waste. Need is for healthful experiences not just wholesome foods.

    • kstillerman

      Katie, this is a great point. Thanks!

  • MindStream Academy

    Thanks for this! We agree 100% – especially about our “candified food!”

  • Casey

    Yes! It’s time to stop overloading kids with sugar. Thanks for getting the word out.

    • kstillerman

      Thanks, Casey. We’re hearing that this Congress probably isn’t finishing trying to roll back key progress made in the 2010 child nutrition law–that could happen after the election–so do send your lawmakers a message at http://www.ucsusa.org/halloweeneveryday.