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Halloween’s Horrors Shouldn’t Come from Dyed, Sugary Treats

Statement of CSPI Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs Sarah Sorscher

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Five tips to avoid “tricky treats” this Halloween.

As imaginary ghoulies, ghosts, and witches pour out into streets this Halloween, the spookiest part of the night for many parents can be wondering what junk will wind up in their children’s candy bags.

Most candy is high in added sugars and (often) unhealthy saturated fats—which raise kids’ risk of weight gain and tooth decay, and puts them on track for diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.  And the synthetic dyes in candy can trigger hyperactivity or other adverse behaviors in sensitive children, transforming them from happy kids into little monsters (boo!).

Some major manufacturers, including Mars, have already committed to getting synthetic dyes out of treats, and naturally dyed candies are widely available in Europe, where candy that contains certain synthetic dyes is required to carry this warning: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

There’s no reason to let food dyes make your Halloween spookier than it should be.  So here are five key tips to avoiding a Halloween meltdown.

  • Feed your kids first. A healthy snack—like fruit, nuts, or whole grains—before they hit the streets will help reduce the urge to snack on candy all evening.
  • Play the “Switch Witch.”  The night after trick-or-treating, a friendly witch may visit and leave colorful art supplies, a coveted toy, or even money in place of some or all of the candy.
  • Offer healthier treats. Cuties or other mandarin oranges are already festively decked out in Halloween colors; or dress them up as mummies, pumpkins, or ghosts. Small bottles of water, packs of raisins or dried fruit, 100 percent fruit leather, dye-free juice boxes, or roasted pumpkin seeds can be offered with spooky Halloween designs.
  • Be a playful neighbor. Offering a safe toy to the trick-or-treaters helps kids who have dye sensitivities, as well as those who are allergic to peanuts! Stickers and rub-on tattoos can be as affordable as candy. Put out a Teal Pumpkin to let kids with allergies know you’ve got non-food treats to share.
  • Buy dye-free. If you’re going to offer candy, ones that are free of synthetic dyes are increasingly available. Check your grocery store’s natural foods section, or check online for European candy or other naturally dyed brands.
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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).