The friendly neighbourhood corner store, with its chips, soda, chocolates and other snacks, is always tempting school kids to tuck in something.
Temple University (TU) and The Food Trust researchers recently examined the eating habits of urban children before and after school as part of a larger project to make corner store snacks healthier.
"We realised that a majority of kids were eating and drinking on their way to and from school and that the corner stores were playing a big role," said co-author Stephanie Vander Veur, director of clinical research at TU Centre for Obesity Research and Education.
The majority of the students, from seven Philadelphia middle schools, were African-American (47.1 percent) followed by Hispanic (19.7 percent), Asian (18.2 percent) and White (11.9 percent), said a Temple University press release.
Almost half of the children were overweight or obese, with approximately three-quarters walking to and from school. The researchers found that about 70 percent of the students bought food or drink on their commute to school, spending about $3.00 a day.
Studies have found that school-based interventions can be very effective in preventing overweight and obesity in large groups of students. But because the external environment - home, corner stores, restaurants - can undermine school programmes, researchers are examining what kids are consuming outside school, as well as how to make these environments healthier.
"We're teaching children about making healthier choices in schools and working with store owners to stock fresh fruit and other healthy snacks for youngsters to buy," said Sandy Sherman of The Food Trust. "By involving kids in the process, we're ensuring that the messages really appeal to kids."
Their findings will be presented at The Obesity Society's annual scientific meeting later Saturday.