It is that time of year when those of our friends in the ex-colonies are adorning their houses with the remnants of Cucurbita pepo, carved into the facsimile of long dead relatives. Over in Australia the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve has not hit American proportions but some children still go from door to door on the hunt for sugar based calories. An 80s childhood of watching appallingly good horror flicks has made me reluctant to let my children knock on the doors of strangers. Is it safe?
Should I have to worry about razor blades in the candy bars?
I’ve never seen it in either the UK or Australia. Still, there was a time when US emergency departments would be offering a free screening service for children turning up to their department laden with plastic pumpkins filled to the brim with wrapped confections. In one study (from 1992) that Dr Phibes could have conducted, several hospitals in Kentucky were contacted to review their practices. Not one of the 454 children who had their stashes x-rayed revealed a dangerous foreign object except…
The investigators decided to make things more interesting. They inserted a 2 1/2cm sewing needle, vertically, into a toffee apple (candy apple) and sent it with volunteers to the study hospitals. One of the five study hospitals failed to find the needle, despite radiographic screening. Given that the actual number of dangerous goods found was nil, routine x-ray did not seem to be a cost effective strategy.
Who would even put them there?
The idea that Halloween is a holiday for sadists only started being put about in the early 1970s. An enterprising team of researchers trawled through the databases of four major regional newspapers covering a 25 year period and pulled all reports that included acts of alleged Halloween sadism, by then a psychosocial construct. In the days before the internet they managed to find 76 incidents. The only two deaths reported were not, in fact, random acts of violence by strangers but acts of non-accidental injury by relatives. Although actual reports were low, numbers of alleged acts increased, especially after the 1982 adulteration of extra-strength Tylenol capsules. A number of children reported that their sweets had been contaminated but when tested they were found to be drug and toxin free. It seems as if the idea of a razor blade in the Halloween candy is just an urban legend, after all.
So children can eat whatever they like then?
Not so fast… Too much sugar is not good for you, so some do-gooders may have decided to lace their selection with sugar-free, artificially sweetened sweets. This case report presents a case of severe diarrhoea induced by sorbitol in sweets and posits that there may be many more cases of candy cramps around the holiday season.
They may not want sweets anyway. Children are just as likely to choose small toys over candy according to this study. If parents can change their own enabling behaviour then they can reduce the calorific burden that their children are placed under.
And it’s not just the kids you have to worry about
One case report from my favourite non-medical journal this month, Australian Zoologist, tells the tale of a poor garden skink stuck to a half-melted candy – described as a yellow-and-white, banana-flavoured soft object). He/she/it could only escape with the passing zoologists’ help.
So perhaps they should just stay at home and watch a nice film then?
It really depends on what you are going to let your children watch. We know that children that spend a larger proportion of their time in front of television screens are more likely to be overweight. It may not just be sitting on their backsides, barely using up calories, that is making them fat but what they are watching as well. A study, published in Obesity in 2013, analysed 10 minute segments of the top four top-grossing children’s films form 2006 to 2010 and rated then for health and unhealthy activities portrayed on screen. Examples of obesogenic behaviours included unhealthy snacking, exaggerated portion sizes, lack of physical activity, excess screen time and intake of high sugar drinks. The majority of the films watched showed sugary drinks (55%), exaggerated portion sizes (60%) and unhealthy snacks (75%). Unfortunately 70% of the films studied also portrayed stigmatising behaviour towards body size.
“One must first master the highest level of Kung Fu and that is clearly impossible if that one is someone like you…That fat butt! Flabby arms!
Master Shifu, Kung Fu Panda (2008)
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