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Make trick-or-treat night fun and safe

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Halloween is supposed to be a night of fun for kids, but it can turn into a night of fright if people aren't cautious.

Thousands of children across Mississippi will be out on Oct. 31 dressed in costumes and going door-to-door in neighborhoods. Others of all ages will take part in parties and festivals designed with a fall flair. Most will have the opportunity to eat a lot of sweets.

Carolyn H. Purnell, an area nutrition and food safety agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Montgomery County, urged parents to put limits on the candy children consume at Halloween.

“Feed your children a light meal before they go out trick-or-treating so they won't have an empty stomach,” Purnell said. “This will prevent them from munching.”

Purnell cautioned adults to teach their children never to eat any of the goodies they have been given until an adult has inspected them. She said children should eat only Halloween foods that have been commercially prepared and vacuum-sealed, unless the adult knows the source of the homemade treat and is confident of its safety.

While candy is the most common item to end up in children's pumpkins or Halloween bags, there are numerous other things that adults can give out.

“Individually wrapped snack crackers, peanuts, raisins, pretzels, cookies and fruit chews are all good choices for Halloween give-aways,” Purnell said. “Adults can also give pencils, small toys or even coins rather than candy.”

Once a child comes home with sweets, Purnell urged adults to limit what they eat.

“Most children will eat a lot of candy on Halloween, but try to portion out the treats in the days following Halloween,” Purnell said.

While overeating candy can be bad for health, there also can be danger involved in going out to get the goodies.

Liz Sadler, Extension health area agent in Lamar County, said parents should go with young children while they are trick-or-treating. At what age a child can go in a group or without parents is an individual decision that should be based on the child's maturity and responsibility, and the safety of the neighborhood.

“Parents who don't go door-to-door with their children should make sure they know where they are and who they are with,” Sadler said. “Insist that children only go to houses where they know the residents.”

Part of protecting children during Halloween is making sure their costumes are safe.

“Costumes should fit correctly. Those that are too large can cause the child to trip or fall,” Sadler said. “Many Halloween costumes tend to be dark, so it is a good idea to put reflective tape on the back of costumes and on shoes. Have children carry a flashlight or glow stick so they can see their own feet and where they are going, and so others can see them.”

Choose consumes that are flame retardant for extra security, and make sure any costume props such as swords are made of flexible material to prevent injuring anyone. Make sure masks do not obstruct vision so the child can walk safely.

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Released: Oct. 19, 2006
Contact: Carolyn Purnell (662) 283-4133 or Liz Sadler (601) 794-391

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