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Doctor: How To Address Obesity & Halloween Candy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Halloween is on Thursday, and while many of us are stocking up on candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters, a woman in Fargo is planning to hand out a controversial letter.

In an interview with a radio station, she said she will give the letter to trick-or-treaters, who she considers "moderately obese."

She believes that it is irresponsible for parents of overweight children to send out their children looking for free candy.

That story has, of course, caused an uproar.

But we do know that childhood obesity is a nationwide problem, and one that many families are struggling to handle.

We spoke to a doctor at the Obesity Prevention Center at the University of Minnesota about the options to handle these delicate situations. She's a psychologist whose done research on childhood obesity for years now.

She talked about the challenge of being surrounded by candy during the Halloween season, and what we, as parents, can do to help our kids make good decisions about food and treats.

Halloween can be a very difficult time of the year, especially if you are a child or a teenager who is overweight or has really bad eating habits.

Nearly one out of five children in the United States is obese. That's triple the rate from just one generation ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Dr. Nancy Sherwood is a research investigator for Health Partners and the University of Minnesota.

Childhood obesity is her area of expertise.

"We definitely don't want kids to be self-conscious and feeling bad about themselves, because then what happens over time is that a kid might become less active because they feel self-conscious," she said.

On Halloween, she said there are alternatives to candy that you can hand out.

"There are also a lot of options in the stores that are healthier food options, little bags of pretzels that are decorated for Halloween," she said.

She said parents need to limit the treats they buy, not just for Halloween but year-round, and really focus on creating healthy environments at home.

"It's not just what you say, it's what you do, and what you serve, and focusing on eating healthy foods to feel good, and to be able to do well in school," she said.

She said parents need to be careful with how they talk to children with weight issues.

"There is so much stigma around weight and self-consciousness that people feel, and we know that can contribute to unhealthy weight gain over time," she said.

And if you are a parent, remember, the kids are watching what you eat.

"Oftentimes parents who have kids who have weight problems, have weight problems themselves. It's definitely a touchy topic," she said.

One thing to keep in mind is there are places you can go to get help.

The best place to start is with your doctor or your child's pediatrician.

They can then refer you to classes in your community, both about nutrition and also cooking classes.

The best way to have a conversation with a parent of a child who is obese, and who is clearly not getting the help that he or she needs, is tricky.

It could be a child of a close friend or relative.

She said that unless it is your child, you shouldn't be directly addressing the child about it.

For more information about the Obesity Prevention Center, click here.

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