Halloween is the night of costumes and jack o’ lanterns, scarecrows and goblins, candy and stomach-aches. Yet far too often, it is also a night of tragedy.
A study conducted by SafeKids USA shows that twice as many children are killed in pedestrian versus vehicle collisions on Halloween as on any other night of the year. Emergency rooms see a sharp spike in visits because of other causes of injury, as well. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the most common incidents are eye injuries from sharp objects, burns from flammable costumes, and children hit by cars as they walk and run around the neighborhood.
Fortunately, most of those injuries could have been prevented. With some smart planning and reasonable safety precautions you can minimize the risks – and have a safe, healthy, happy Halloween.
Here’s your guide to how.
The Poisoned Candy Hoax
If you’re worried about finding a razor in your kid’s apple or rat poison in a Three Musketeers Bar, you needn’t lose any more sleep. Rumors about poisoned candies or pins and razors in fruit are largely unsubstantiated, according to Joel Best, chairperson of sociology the University of Delaware. In 1985, Best published results of a study of Halloween injuries starting in 1958. He found no evidence that “any child has ever been killed or seriously harmed by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.” Of the 100 or so alleged cases of Halloween poisoning over the last 50 years, most were probably hoaxes, says Best.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped a at least two parents from trying to blame Halloween on their own unhallowed actions. In 1974, Texan Ronald Clark O’Bryan took out a $20,000 life insurance policy on his son, then laced his Pixy Stick with cyanide. When the boy died, he tried to claim the money – and got life in prison instead. In 1970, a five-year-old Detroit boy got into his father’s heroin stash and died – Dad originally pointed to the boy’s trick-or-treat bag as the source of the heroin. Pins and razors? Yes, they’ve been found in apples – but most of the time, they were put there by the children themselves.
What’s a parent to do? Take a look in your child’s Halloween bag. Throw away any candy that’s open or looks like it’s been tampered with. Find any home-baked goodies and fresh fruits? Use your discretion – where did it come from? Would you trust that person to feed your child dinner on any other night? They are probably just fine, especially if you know the person who provided them. But if you’re going to lose a night’s sleep or worry so much you call Poison Control, then throw them out.
Jack O’ Lantern: Friend or Foe?
Halloween’s real dangers start before the costumes are donned and trick or treat bags filled – with carving of the Jack O’ Lantern. Each year, hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ offices see an increase in the number of visits during the holidays, with more kids seeking help than on almost any other holiday. About one-fourth of those injuries involve the hands, usually cut during a pumpkin carving session.
What’s a parent to do? Experts concur: Leave the Jack o’ Lantern carving to adults. When it comes to carving Jack, children younger than 12 can draw, but leave the sharp knives for older children and adults. Adults should always model safe knife handling techniques for children. Thick-skinned pumpkins, and slippery pumpkin “goo” are not a good combination in little hands. Better yet, purchase a pumpkin carving kit so everyone can join in the fun safely.
In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two other safety precautions to take with Jack this year:
- Consider using a flashlight or glow stick instead of a candle to light your pumpkin. If you do use a candle, a votive candle is safest.
- Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and should never be left unattended.
- Candlelit jack-o'-lanterns should be kept away from landings and doorsteps where costumes could brush against the flame.
Trick or Treating Safety
Take large numbers of distracted, excited children walking alone on ill-lit streets, wearing dark, long costumes with a mask that obscures their vision. Send them up strange driveways lit with candles. Then add distracted, partying drivers who’ve had a drink or ten, also wearing costumes and headwear that obscures their vision. No, it’s not just an illusion – those ghouls behind the wheel really are drinking. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Halloween is 48 percent of fatal crashes on Halloween night in 2009 involved a driver or motorcycle rider with a blood alcohol content of.08 g/dL or higher.
What’s a parent to do? Prepare for Halloween safety -- as well as fun. Parents should work with children to plan costumes carefully and minimize the risk of burns, traffic injuries, and other injuries. Before you go out – every year – talk with your children about safe pedestrian behaviors. Remember, children will be distracted and excited.
- Minimize the risk of burns
- Avoid baggy clothes or costumes made out of flimsy materials, big sleeves, billowing skirts, all of which can easily come into contact with candles.
- Make sure that costumes are made out of flame-resistant materials. Don’t forget to check for flame resistance of wigs, masks, beards, and other costume additions.
- Make sure drivers can see your child
- Use light-colored clothing for costumes.
- Integrate reflective material to the costume. For instance, a skeleton could be “made” out of strips of reflective tape, or a princess could really glitter in the light.
- Carry a flashlight or attach glow sticks to your child’s costume (remind younger children not to chew on glow sticks, which contain toxic material).
- Minimize the risk of costume-related injuries.
- Use non-toxic face paints or makeup instead of masks, which can slip and obscure vision.
- If the child just must have a mask, make sure it fits securely and has eyeholes large enough to allow full vision.
- Make swords, knives, walking sticks, etc. out of soft, flexible material, and decorate them with reflective tape.
- Make sure costumes are short enough to prevent trips and falls
- Outfit children with sturdy walking shoes – leave the high heels in the closet.
- Tie hats and scarves securely so they don’t slip over eyes.
- Practice safe pedestrian habits
- Strictly enforce age-appropriate rules such as holding an adult’s hand while crossing streets, crossing only with green lights, and staying on sidewalks.
- All children 12 and under should be accompanied by an adult – not an older sibling pre-teen or teen.
- Enlist older children to help with younger children and ask them to model safe pedestrian behaviors.
- Use sidewalks
- Have children stay in a group and communicate clearly where they will be going
- Carry a cell phone or other means of communication
- Choose Safe Houses
- Tell children not to go into homes unaccompanied by an adult
- Children should only go to homes where the residents are known and have outside lights on as a sign of welcome.
- People expecting trick-or-treaters should remove anything that could be an obstacle from lawns, steps and porches.
You Mean Halloween Candy Contains Calories?
Once your child is home and safe, costume off, make-up smudged, and candy stash tallied, you can relax, right? Not so. A third menace still lurks in your children’s candy basket: Calories. Donna Arnett, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the University of Alabama School of Public Health, estimates that children collect on average 3500 to 7000 calories in that basket on Halloween night. Most of those calories have little nutritional value.
Each piece of mini-size candy contains about 60 calories, the same as a small apple. For a young child caloric requirements 1200 or less a day, six pieces of candy represent about 30 percent of daily caloric requirements. Over one night, that’s not a big deal – but stretched over a few months of daily intake from that Halloween stash, it may lead to weight gain. In addition, children may substitute candy for more nutritious foods, shortchanging themselves on nutrition at a time when they need it most.
The impact of those extra calories becomes apparent when you consider obesity rates in children and adults. Nearly 17 percent of children in the United States ages two to 19 are obese, and 31 percent are overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association.
“Obesity is a serious epidemic, and we have to wake up and realize this is a problem,” says Arnett, who is president-elect of the American Heart Association.
“Though Halloween alone is not going to be a major overall contributor to our children’s health, any behaviors they learn can have an effect,” adds Arnett.
So what’s a concerned parent to do?
- Feed your child a healthy dinner before trick-or-treating begins. Make it simple and quick – not elaborate.
- Know what’s in your child’s Halloween stash. Read the nutrition labels and estimate the number of calories in each piece.
- Limit your child’s intake of candies to a reasonable amount, based on his size, weight, and caloric needs. For instance, a three-year-old might be allowed to choose one or two pieces a day for a week or two, while four pieces might be appropriate for a 10-year-old.
- Set a hard and fast rule for when you’ll throw out any leftover candies – and don’t be afraid of the trash can.
- Ask your child to donate some of his stash to a homeless or domestic violence shelter, soup kitchen, etc.
- Do your part by giving out healthy Halloween treats or non-food items.
Whatever you do, don’t make it a big deal – candy is candy. It’s part of Halloween, at least as it is celebrated today. Look at Halloween candy control as a way for your child to learn how to set limits and develop healthy eating habits.
Healthy Halloween Treats
Want to do your part to contribute to a healthier Halloween, but still provide enough treats that you don’t get tricked? Try passing out some of these goodies in your treat bowl.
Just Plain Fun Treats
Try handing out small packets of any of the following:
Have a safe, healthy, and happy Halloween!
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2010, October). “Halloween Safety Tips.” Press Release. Retrieved from http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/octhalloween.cfm
American College of Emergency Physicians. (2010). “Halloween Safety Tips from Emergency Physicians: Avoid Truly Frightening Trick-or-Treat Injuries.” Press release. Retrieved from https://apps.acep.org/patients.aspx?id=26200
Consumer Safety Product Commission. Halloween Safety: Safety Alert. http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/hallow.html
National Highway Safety and Traffic Admnistration (2010). http://www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov/CAMPAIGNS/Drunk+Driving/Buzzed+Driving+is+Drunk+Driving/Halloween/Talking+Points+2011
National SAFE KIDS Campaign (NSKC). Pedestrian Injury Fact Sheet. Washington (DC): NSKC, 2004. Retrieved from http://www.preventinjury.org/PDFs/PEDESTRIAN_INJURY.pdf
National Safety Council. (nd). “Halloween Safety.” Factsheet. Retrieved from http://downloads.nsc.org/pdf/factsheets/Halloween_Safety.pdf
University of Alabama at Birmingham. (2011, October 25). “Help Your Kids Have a Heart-Healthy Halloween.” Press release. Retrieved from http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/582128/?sc=dwhr&xy=5031109