Look around: Chances are there is Halloween candy near you right now. If the candy is not in your home, your office, or your school, it’s in a bowl at the dry cleaner's, the doctor’s office, even the yoga studio.
We’ve officially entered the long season of candy-centric holidays. After we drench ourselves in sugar this Halloween, we'll do it again on Christmas and Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, Passover, Easter, and in the weeks between these special days. The candy industry counts on us to celebrate with sugar for a huge portion of its annual sales.
We can all agree that Halloween and other seasonal candy is a fun ritual. I like chocolate as much as my Vox colleagues who recently ranked their favorite Halloween candies. And a bit of candy here and there is no problem for our health.
But we’ve reached a point where the amount of candy in circulation is excessive — and symbolic of our sugarcoated environment. In 2018, the candy industry expects Halloween will bring in $9 billion in retail sales.
Unlike the soda industry, which has taken a hit on its sugary products as consumers have gotten more health-savvy, the candy industry is doing better than ever. Overall, Halloween week now accounts for about 8 percent of yearly confectionery sales and 34 percent of seasonal candy sales (including those other candy holidays, like Christmas and Valentine’s Day), according to the National Confectioners Association. Only Easter, the next-largest candy holiday, comes close to October 31.
If you took all the candy that’s sold during Halloween week and turned it into a giant ball, like the one looming over the nation’s capital below, it’d be as large as six Titanics and weigh 300,000 tons:
That's 2 pounds of candy per American. With this kind of volume, and everyone buying candy and handing it out, it’s hard to control how much we — and our children — eat.
How big candy took over Halloween
Candy and Halloween didn't always go hand in hand. It wasn't until the 1950s that confectioners started to push their product this time of year as a way to boost flagging fall sales.
Candy was ideal for trick-or-treating, as convenient to hand out and carry around as it was affordable. Over the years, as the popularity of these treats increased, candy has also gotten cheaper, making it much more accessible to all. As the New York Times explains, "Milky Way, Snickers and 3 Musketeers bars were 59 cents a pound [in 1964], or $4.53 in today's money." Today, you can buy a pound of Halloween chocolates from Walmart for less than $3.
Beyond price, ubiquity, and tradition, there are other reasons we're hooked. Companies like Mars, Hershey, and Nestlé engineer their products to become irresistible and habit-forming, and spend billions overwhelming us with ads to entice to eat more and more.
A UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity report found that in 2014, food companies spent $1.28 billion to advertise snack foods (including candy) on television, in magazines, in coupons, and, increasingly, on the internet and mobile devices. Almost 60 percent of that advertising spending promoted sweet and savory snacks, while just 11 percent promoted fruit and nut snacks.
It might be time to say no to so much candy
We know that our environments have a huge impact on the health choices we make, and the holiday candy deluge is another example of how sugary the food environment has become. Back in 1977, the average adult got 228 calories per day from sugar in food and drinks. By 2010, it was up to 300 calories a day. Added sugar consumption has increased 20 percent among kids.
Because sugar is so omnipresent now — not just during our holidays but throughout the year — health experts consider it a public health hazard, linked to obesity, tooth decay, and diabetes. Junk food more broadly is now being called a human rights concern.
So don’t be afraid to reject Halloween candy — or just throw some of it away. The heads of food banks are doing it, and so are dentists. It's hardly a treat anymore.