Handing out a healthier Halloween

Some skip the candy in favor of water, trinkets

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



The little goblins and ghouls that knock on Florence Wager’s door this Halloween are in for a treat.

The Vancouver woman’s candy bowl will have more than just chocolate nougats and other sweets. Trick-or-treaters will also have some less-sugary options: bottled water, wax vampire fangs, bottles of bubbles and neon crazy straws.

For the last six years, Wager has offered youngsters candy and healthy alternatives — not because she’s the Wicked Witch of the West nor because she wants to take away the fun of Halloween, but because she’s concerned by children’s growing waistlines.

“I just encourage people to just try to think of something different,” Wager said. “Obesity is a serious, serious problem. Just an enormous problem in our society.”

Nearly 20 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds across the country were considered obese in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Clark County, nearly a quarter of kids and two-thirds of adults are overweight, according to Clark County Public Health.

“I love Halloween,” Wager said. “I just want kids to learn that they can choose something other than candy.”

Over the years, Wager’s offerings to kids in the Northwood neighborhood have included sugar-free bubble gum, Matchbox cars, stickers, balloons, coloring books and unsalted microwave popcorn. Two staples year-in and year-out are individually wrapped candy and bottles of water.

Wager’s creativity inspired Vancouver resident Sharon Pesut to give alternatives a try.

Two years ago, Pesut offered children in her Cascade Park neighborhood candy and fruit leathers. The fruit leathers weren’t too popular, so last year, she swapped them out for bottled water.

Pesut ran out of water before she ran out of candy.

“The water was outstandingly popular,” she said. “The first couple kids that came up had empty bags and were looking for candy. As the night went on, water was much more popular.”

One little boy who chose water hopped off Pesut’s front porch and raced to his awaiting mother.

“He yelled, ‘Mom, mom! Look, water!’” Pesut said. “I was just standing there thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Wager has had similar success with water.

“It really amazed me,” she said. “I thought that would be the last thing to go, but I found it was the first.”

Whether it’s bottled water or peanuts, for Wager and Pesut, the most important thing is providing kids with choices.

“Of all the times of the year it’s apparent we just stuff kids full of sugar, it’s Halloween,” Wager said.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.