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Halloween scare over lolly intake

Lolly fest: A selection of Halloween goodies. Picture: The West Australian

Halloween is an "imported American celebration" that sparked a 30 per cent increase in the sale of confectionary and Halloween-related items in Australian supermarkets last year, research has found.

A paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia today by public health physicians Nathan Grills and Gillian Porter suggests the exploitation of Halloween by confectionary companies in the US had spread to Australia.

The article says the targeted advertising of confectionary to children has had "deleterious effects" because it encourages the consumption of ultra- processed products that are high in salt, sugar and fat.

It contributes to overweight and obesity levels in children, the authors reported.

They also raised concerns about food allergies, contaminated food, food-borne disease, burns and house fires from pumpkins used as candelabras and children being hit by cars.

Dr Grills said Halloween was an $8 billion industry in the US, with more than $2.4 million spent on confectionary each year.

He said multinational companies had recognised the marketing potential of Halloween in Australia and it had become more popular over the past few years because it was being "pushed upon" people.

Most Australian supermarkets now had a dedicated Halloween section in the lead-up to October 31.

"Australians should be aware that profit-driven corporate manipulation of our cultural choices could damage our health," Dr Grills said. "Instead, we should promote healthy and family-friendly events that are consistent with our own cultural identity."

Dr Grills said marketing unhealthy food to children was particularly damaging because they were not consumers who could make informed decisions.

The paper says one-quarter of Australians now plan to celebrate Halloween.

WA dietician Margaret Hayes said if children gathered a big stash of lollies while trick-or-treating and ate them over a few weeks it could pose a risk to their health.

Though she was not against children enjoying a treat, Ms Hayes said she was concerned about the focus on unhealthy foods at Halloween.

Parents needed to monitor how many lollies their children were receiving and limit them.