Is Halloween really dangerous for kids?
Over the past 50 years, how many American children have been harmed by tainted Halloween candy given to them by a stranger?
a. 24 b. 87 c. 9 d. 0
If you answered d, congratulations! It's true: there hasn't been a single recorded incident of a child being hurt by tainted candy, and in all those decades there have only been a few cases of tainted candy actually being doled out by strangers.
Sociologist Joel Best, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware who has researched the prevalence of tainted treats for more than 20 years, calls it a "contemporary legend." The Gainesville Times interviewed Best in 2008 and wrote this story. An excerpt:
In his review of news coverage dating back to 1958, Best found reports of five child deaths initially attributed to Halloween sadism. All were debunked in one way or another, including the 1974 case of a father who laced his son’s candy with cyanide in order to collect on a life insurance policy.
Of the 80 or so reported cases in which sharp objects were found in apples or other Halloween treats, almost all were pranks and none resulted in serious injuries, according to Best’s research.
Surprised? I was, considering that every year, safety advocates and the media hammer parents with the fear of tainted candy.
For example, this year the Ann Arbor Police Department warns parents that: "It's sad, but true, that some people wish to cause harm. Treats must be checked for potential poisoning or unsafe objects."
It isn't just tainted candy that parents are told to be concerned about. The lists of Halloween safety tips have become so extensive that it's a wonder anyone lets their kids leave the house on Oct. 31.
Again, from the AAPD:
* Sharp or pointed toy weapons are unsafe * Loose costumes, oversized bags or unsafe shoes can cause falls or accidents * Flowing false-hair wigs are unsafe around candles * Wigs and costumes should be of non-flammable materials * Masks reduce vision. If wearing a mask, choose one that is cool, comfortable and easy to see out of. Take off the mask before crossing the street. Better yet, wear make-up instead of a mask.
Whew. I think the issue of mask safety is covered. And I'm not sure what is scarier; the idea that a child might trip and fall over a long costume, or the fact that the police department feels its necessary to remind parents of this.
The greatest danger to kids on Halloween, according to sources like this MedPageToday article, is being hit by a car.
The most recent data on Halloween pedestrian safety was published by the CDC in an October 1997 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The CDC reported that childhood pedestrian deaths jumped fourfold on Halloween night compared with the rest of the year. That figure was based on data collected from 1975 to 1996 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The risk is still very small; according to a U-M Transportation Research Institute study, Halloween traffic accidents amounted to about three additional child deaths per year.
The AAPD points out that children may become careless from excitement and run into the road. They suggest kids wear light colored costumes with added reflective tape.
That's good advice. It's just unfortunate that safety advocates feel the need to outline every possible way a child could get hurt on Halloween, because I think it not only makes parents and kids anxious, but it also minimizes the bigger danger of cars.
So this Saturday, our two kids will wear reflective tape, we'll be especially mindful of traffic, our son will whack people with his dull foam sword, and I'll breathe easier about the candy — though I'll still look through it and take out anything that looks weird or was manufactured in China.
Jen Eyer is on the Community Team at AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at 734-623-2577 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit her at 301 East Liberty. "Save My Sanity" is an occasional feature looking at "scare" stories in the media.
Photo by Flickr user Juushika Redgrave