Halloween Hazards Can Spook Parents

The trick is to provide close supervision of your kids, say experts

SATURDAY, Oct. 27, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The scariest part of Halloween for many parents is the seemingly countless hazards that their kids can face as they venture out into the night, bags in hand.

Statistics show that a fair amount of concern is certainly justified: The number of deaths among young pedestrians from 1975 through 1996 was four times higher on Halloween evening than on any other night of the year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Experts caution that central to those pedestrian hazards are costumes that can be unsafe for a number of reasons.

"One of the most important things to be concerned about is if the child's costume restricts their view, they can't see hazards and obstacles," explains Dr. William Boyle, a pediatrician at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, N.H.

And if the costumes aren't well-designed with reflective materials, cars won't be able to see them either, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP also recommends that parents make sure their children carry flashlights with fresh batteries.

One fun way of preventing obstructions of vision is to use face paint and hats rather than masks. Just make sure to secure the hat tightly so it doesn't slip over the child's eyes, advises the AAP.

Another hazard of costumes can be long, flowing fabrics that may brush against candles, particularly in pumpkins.

"You really need to be careful about being around fires," Boyle warns. "You've often got pumpkins with burning candles inside of them, and they are right at the foot level where a costume could flow right into the flame and potentially ignite."

In addition to visibility concerns on Halloween, there is also the candy issue -- a constant parental challenge that is taken to extreme on this night of sugar worship.

Joan Carter, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, suggests making "trick-or-treating just one part of the day. You can plan a host of other fun activities, such as a scavenger hunt or games or story-telling. That way, the focus is not entirely on gathering candy and eating it."

And don't make the mistake of sending the kids out on an empty stomach, she adds.

"It's a very good idea to feed them dinner first. Not a big dinner, obviously, but enough to fill them up so they don't begin eating all of the candy."

Even if children do wind up indulging well beyond any level of sanity, however, Carter says it's not going to spell the end of their nutritional health.

"It's not a big deal. Even a day-long binge isn't going to make you fat, just like one day at the gym doesn't make you thin," she adds.

But whether it's candy consumption or costume design, experts agree that the bottom line in keeping Halloween fun is to offer an amount of supervision that many parents may not be used to.

"The potential hazards really mandate a whole additional level of supervision," says Boyle.

The AAP offers the following additional tips for safety and fun:

  • Dress children in comfortable shoes that fit. Adult-size shoes can cause blistering or can make a child trip and fall.
  • Don't let small children carve pumpkins. They can draw a face with markers, then adults should do the cutting. And use votive candles; they're the safest in pumpkins.
  • Any lighted pumpkin should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and should never be left unattended.
  • To keep your home safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, you should remove anything a child could trip over, like garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.
  • Also check outdoor lights and replace burned-out bulbs, and sweep away wet leaves from sidewalks and steps.
  • Offer trick-or-treaters something other than candy, like colorful pencils, stickers, large erasers or decorative shoelaces.
  • For your own trick-or-treater, set a number of days candy can remain in the house before it gets thrown out.
  • Don't let the kids snack while they're trick-or-treating; make sure to check their treats at home before letting them have some.
  • Watch for signs of tampering, like small pinholes in wrappers and torn or loose packages.
  • For younger children, get rid of potential choking-hazard treats, like gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys.

What To Do

The CDC offers numerous tips on its Safe USA site for Halloween safety.

You can also visit the National Safety Council for other tips and information on safety issues for Halloween.

SOURCES: Interviews with William Boyle, M.D., pediatrician, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Hanover, N.H.; Joan Carter, R.D., instructor, Baylor College of Medicine at the Children's Nutrition Research Center, and spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; American Academy of Pediatrics press release
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