Today’s post comes from Dr. Kristen Reilly. Kristen’s doctoral thesis focuses on parent as agents of change in the treatment of childhood obesity and promotion of children’s health behaviours. She is currently a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Geography at Western University and the Special Events Coordinator of the OC-SNP National Executive.

As October came to an end, the preparations for Halloween were evident all across the nation. Families created elaborate costumes, hung spooky decorations on their homes, and according to Statistics Canada (2017), spent more than $550 million on candy and other snack food.  The last day of October, children trick-or-treated around their neighbourhoods collecting bags full of sweet treats, leaving many parents unsure about how to manage their child’s Halloween loot.

Given this uncertainty, I thought it best check with the experts – dietitians– and it turns out they do not all agree on an approach. Some recommend that parents set a daily limit of Halloween candy to promote moderation in their diet (Beck, 2018; Szklarski, 2019). Others advocate for a “no limits” approach in which they encourage children to listen to their bodies and build intuitive eating habits (Satter, 2019; Szklarski, 2019). Research shows that parental restriction increases children’s consumption of and preference for the restricted food (Birch, Fisher, & Davison, 2003; Rollins, Loken, Savage, & Birch, 2014; Ventura & Worobey, 2013). Furthermore, there is evidence linking restrictive feeding practices to increases in weight-related outcomes (Anzman & Birch, 2009; Birch et al., 2003; Rollins et al., 2016) and decline emotional and psychosocial health in children (Flahive, Chavan, & Haile, 2019).

The conflicting recommendations about Halloween candy may cause some parents to wonder whether treats should be avoided all together (Braat, 2019). In 2003, Schwartz, Chen, & Brownell examined the likelihood of children (aged 3-14 years) choosing toys over candy for Halloween. Their study revealed that both boys and girls were just as likely to choose toys as candy (Schwartz, Chen, & Brownell, 2003). While the evidence seemed promising at the time, it does not appear that there has been much uptake of this strategy since it was published.

Despite the debate over Halloween candy, generally speaking, dietitians and researchers agree that when it comes to instilling healthy dietary behaviours in kids, parents are the key role models; parents that adopt and model healthy habits may see the same positive changes mirrored in their children (Dong et al., 2016; Natale et al., 2014). Healthy eating happens every day, not just on the spookiest day of the year!


Anzman, S. L., & Birch, L. L. (2009). Low inhibitory control and restrictive feeding practices predict weight outcomes. The Journal of pediatrics155(5), 651-656.

Birch, L. L., Fisher, J. O., & Davison, K. K. (2003). Learning to overeat: maternal use of restrictive feeding practices promotes girls’ eating in the absence of hunger. The American journal of clinical nutrition78(2), 215-220.

Braat (2019, October 17). Healthy Halloween? City and health officials hope kids will trade in treats for activity. Global News. Retrieved from

Beck (2018, October 28). How much Halloween candy should kids eat? The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Dong, F., Howard, A. G., Herring, A. H., Thompson, A. L., Adair, L. S., Popkin, B. M., … & Gordon-Larsen, P. (2016). Parent–child associations for changes in diet, screen time, and physical activity across two decades in modernizing China: China Health and Nutrition Survey 1991–2009. international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity13(1), 118.

Flahive, S., Chavan, B., & Haile, Z. T. (2019). Association Between Maternal Feeding Practices and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression Among 6-Year-Old Children. Clinical Medicine Insights: Pediatrics13, 1179556519839334.

Natale, R. A., Messiah, S. E., Asfour, L., Uhlhorn, S. B., Delamater, A., & Arheart, K. L. (2014). Role modeling as an early childhood obesity prevention strategy: effect of parents and teachers on preschool children’s healthy lifestyle habits. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics35(6), 378-387.

Rollins, B. Y., Loken, E., Savage, J. S., & Birch, L. L. (2014). Effects of restriction on children’s intake differ by child temperament, food reinforcement, and parent’s chronic use of restriction. Appetite73, 31-39.

Satter (2019). The stick topic of Halloween candy. Family Meals Focus. Retrieved on October 30, 2019 from

Schwartz, M. B., Chen, E., & Brownell, K. D. (2003). Trick, treat, or toy: children are just as likely to choose toys as candy on halloween. J Nutr Educ Behav, 35(4), 207-9.

Statistics Canada (2017).  Table  11-10-0235-01   Survey of large retailers, sales by commodities, inactive (x 1,000). Retrieved on October 30, 2019 from

Szklarski (2019, October 30). The nutritionists’ case for not setting limits on Halloween candy. CTV News. Retrieved from

Ventura, A. K., & Worobey, J. (2013). Early influences on the development of food preferences. Current biology23(9), R401-R408.