A Very Healthy Happy Halloween

Children from across South Los Angeles went “trick or treating” Friday night at the Los Angeles Expo Center. But at the end of the night, their bags weren’t full of candy — they were full of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Brotherhood Crusade, along with several other retailers and service organizations, held the second annual “Very Healthy Happy Halloween” event Friday night. The event was candy-free and offered healthy alternatives for children and their families.

“We’re really encouraging our families to look at how can they have a better healthy lifestyle and showing them alternatives on how to do that,” said Charisse Bremond-Weaver, the president of the Brotherhood Crusade, which provides social services for underprivileged areas throughout Los Angeles County.

After filling their bags with plums, bananas, carrots and more, children were able to go through a haunted house, have their fortune read, play in a petting zoo or do arts and crafts.

Bremond-Weaver estimated that more than 1,000 people from around South Los Angeles attended the event.

“When you look at how underserved communities have a lack of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, it is really this desert of not healthy eating,” Bremond-Weaver said. “We really want to educate our community on the difference between healthy and unhealthy eating.”

Parents said they were excited to get the fresh fruits and vegetables. In South LA, where fast food is more common than supermarkets, fresh produce can be difficult to come by. All produce was donated by Coast Produce.

“Usually kids eat only candy and junk food and this event is opening them up to a lot of healthy stuff that we can’t always get,” said Noemy Molina, who brought her 6-year-old son Phoenix Chavez.

Jefferson Castillo, who brought his two young sons to play the games, said his kids seem to be happier and calmer when they eat healthily.

imageChildhood obesity has steadily risen over the last 50 years in the United States. Los Angeles area doctors said that almost 50 percent of their patients are either overweight or obese.

The biggest culprit for the weight problem?

Children are eating too much processed food instead of eating natural and organic foods, according to Dr. Matthew Keefer from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

“Certainly most of us don’t have as much access to fresh fruits and vegetables as we probably should, but also we are eating too many things that come in a package that have extra calories added to it or extra chemicals added to it that are there to preserve it but that aren’t necessarily healthy,” Keefer said.

The best way for parents to encourage healthy eating is to set a good example – eating balanced meals and treating candy, junk food and sodas as treats and not part of a regular diet.

“When they are not under their parents’ control they are going to do what they’ve seen their parents do because they think that is what is adult-like,” Keefer said.

Though economic and time constraints can prevent parents form maintaining an ideal, Keefer said that finding a happy medium is critical for a child’s health.

“We just need to do all that we can to make sure there are safe places for these kids to play and an expectation that a regular part of your diet should be natural things that grow rather than hot Cheetos that are died with food coloring,” he said.