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Posted October 23, 2009

Tracking the Snack Habits of Kids

Corner Stores and Childhood Obesity

In many low-income urban neighborhoods, almost half of elementary-school age children are overweight. In these same neighborhoods, there are a large number of corner stores, often situated close to schools — a factor which makes them a popular stop for students walking to and from school.

“Students are stopping at these stores sometimes twice a day, everyday,” said Kelley Borradaile, an assistant research professor of public health at Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education.

While existing research has shown that school-based efforts can improve obesity rates among this group, there is no research that looks at how the external environment — including these corner stores — may undermine this progress.

To that end, a research team from Temple University and The Food Trust recently completed a study, published in the November issue of Pediatrics, to find out what children are buying at corner stores and how often they’re going.

Between January and June 2008, researchers looked at more than 800 purchases made by students in grades 4-6 at 10 Philadelphia schools who frequented one of 24 area corner stores before and after school. Students were told in class that they would be approached by team members dressed in identifiable clothing.

During each visit, children spent about $1.07 —enough for two items — and purchases averaged about 360 calories The most frequently purchased items included chips, candy and sugar-sweetened beverages, and calories from each purchase came mainly from carbohydrates (65.6%), followed by fat (29.2%), and protein (5.2%).

For just over a dollar, inner-city students shopping at corner stores before and after school can load up on things like chips, candy and soda, adding nearly 360 calories to their daily intake.

Food items accounted for about 81 percent of all items purchased, with cheese-flavored corn or potato chips the most popular. Candy was the second most frequently purchased type of item. The most popular beverage purchased was a sugar-sweetened artificial fruit drink. Overall, sugar-sweetened beverages accounted for more than 88 percent of drink purchases.

“It is important for us to be aware of students’ snack preferences, so that we may substitute healthier options in the future,” said Borradaile.

“Promoting items like water, single-serving snacks and fresh fruits are small changes that could yield a significant impact on the quantity and quality of children’s intake,” said Sandy Sherman, director of nutrition education at The Food Trust.

For example, the study authors say switching from regular chips to the baked variety would reduce calorie intake by about 14 percent, and replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water would reduce calorie intake by about 60 calories per purchase.

The study provides baseline data collected in advance of The Food Trust’s on-going Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which is designed to improve children’s snack choices.

Other researchers on this study are: Sandy Sherman, Brianna Sandoval and Allison Karpyn, from The Food Trust; Stephanie S. Vander Veur, Tara McCoy and Gary D. Foster, from Temple University; and Joan Nachmani, from the Philadelphia School District. Funding for this research was provided by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its national program Healthy Eating Research.

Posted In: Research