If Halloween Is Canceled, Who Will Eat Less Candy?

Everything changed because of COVID-19.

Posted Oct 18, 2020

Ever since August, my supermarket has allocated yards of shelf space to bags of Halloween candy. In order to get to the aisles with real food, it is necessary to walk a sugar-filled minefield between two shelves stocked with bags of tiny chocolate candy bars, candy corn, fruit-flavored discs, cookie and candy combinations, tiny balls of caramel covered with chocolate, and other confectionery products. Yet the piles of candy do not seem to be decreasing. Maybe the candy is restocked at night so the number of bags remains the same. Or maybe people aren’t buying as much as they have in former years, because there won’t be anyone coming to the door to trick-or-treat. 

A quick survey of how Halloween is to be observed this year produces the sad news that most activities are canceled for both children and grown-ups. Fear of exposure to COVID-19, either from contact with the giver of the candy or the recipients, has generated a set of rather cumbersome suggestions on how to distribute the candy without it being touched by human hands. Candy chutes in which the candy bars are sent into the waiting receptacles of the trick-or-treaters is one suggestion. Another is to put an assortment of treats in individual bags ahead of time, and give out the bags at the front door rather than offering a bowl of snacks. But children not allowed to go from door-to-door to get candy are not the only ones deprived of free candy. Typically in past years, a plastic pumpkin filled with an assortment of Halloween candy was often placed on counters and desks in many indoor spaces, including business and medical offices (but probably not dentists’ offices), hotels, retail stores, beauty salons, front desks of apartment buildings, and so on. It was so easy to pop a candy into one’s mouth and take a few more for later.

But fewer people are in these establishments now since so many are still working, shopping, or even getting their medical and legal advice remotely. And no one is going to put out a container filled with candy that can be handled by many people who may or may be washing their hands constantly. Even though the candy is wrapped, the hands that touched the candy are not.

Of course, some who buy Halloween candy every year do not intend to give it away. The tiny packages are perfect for someone with a sweet tooth who is practicing portion control. It is not necessary to take a knife and cut a normal size chocolate bar into thirds or fourths. The Halloween candy manufacturers have done this already, so a Snickers or Kit Kat or Hersey bar is only one or two mouthfuls and, if only one is eaten, contains only a small number of calories. A bite-size Snickers bar has 80 calories; a normal size bar, 215.

Portion control may not be on the mind of others buying Halloween candy for personal consumption if they are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD”). Halloween coincides with the increasing darkness of fall. We return to Standard Time almost immediately after the holiday, and suddenly the afternoon becomes dark before we are ready for nighttime to be here. Some parts of the country are already feeling the effects of gray cloudy skies, fog, and persistent rain. A good mood seems to be disappearing as rapidly as the leaves are falling off the trees and a lethargy, sleepiness, fatigue, apathy and depressed mood are taking its place. An appetite for sweets appears, along with the mood and sleep changes. This is one of the symptoms of SAD, and is hard to ignore. Halloween did not become a national holiday in order to give people suffering from SAD easy access to candy, but for them, it must look like a happy coincidence. If I have a yearning for a Kit Kat bar because it satisfies my SAD-generated sweet tooth, I don’t have to feel embarrassed walking out of a store with bags of this candy. Everyone will think I am buying for the children in my neighborhood.

The confluence of Halloween and SAD may really have a negative consequence this year. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a serious mood disorder that is often accompanied by significant weight gain. The depression may be treated with antidepressants and/or exposure to therapeutic doses of light that resembles the spectrum of natural light. While the latter treatment can improve mood, it does not affect weight gain while the antidepressants themselves may cause weight gain. And although weight may be lost during the spring and summer when the sweet craving disappears and activity levels increase, sometimes weight gain caused by the antidepressants lingers for months. And if there is any time when weight gain should be avoided and weight loss initiated, it is now. Overweight and obese individuals are at greater risk of developing serious side effects if they become sick with COVID-19.

Halloween snacks pose a problem for anyone who is becoming less and less tolerant of the changes in life imposed by the pandemic. We know them well: loneliness, boredom, no new diversions or any diversions, fewer outside social encounters because of early darkness and bad weather, as well as nothing interesting to watch on television. The snacks sit in our kitchen begging to be eaten. And we eat them, justifying their consumption. Because they are so tiny, what harm can they do if we eat some? Also who else will eat the candy since trick-or-treating has been canceled?

There is a solution. Don’t buy the candy. Take another route through the supermarket so you avoid seeing the candy stacked on the shelves. If you know you want to munch, go to the cereal aisle and look at the candy-flavored breakfast cereal. You can eat a cup of pumpkin-flavored Cheerios for fewer calories than two mini-Snickers bars. And if you have leftover cereal, give it to the squirrels. As it is for you, it is better for them than a candy bar.