Kids, Calories and Corner Stores
Trying to get kids to eat more healthfully is like trying to keep kittens in a box: You make progress in one area -- say, school lunches -- only to find that the kids jump for the junk food first chance they get.
But in too many instances, kids seeking snacks have little to choose from other than junk.
A study published today in Pediatrics shows that urban elementary-school kids in Philadelphia who stop for snacks at corner stores before and after school largely spend their dollars on high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods. Chips topped the list, followed by candy and sweetened beverages. The study found that for just a dollar, a kid could buy an 8-ounce beverage, a single serving bag of chips, an assortment of candy and gum, and a popsicle -- adding up to hundreds of extra calories in their daily diets. More than half the kids bought after-school snacks at corner stores five days per week; nearly a third stopped in the mornings, too.
The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Healthy Eating Research initiative. The goal was to attach numbers to the well-known phenomenon wherein kids in low-income urban settings get much of their food from tiny corner stores that dot their neighborhoods. Such areas -- known as "food deserts" -- often lack full-sized grocery stores, leaving families to rely on the corner stores, which typically sell little other than packaged foods and pre-made sandwiches, pizza and the like. Knowing the extent of the food-desert problem is the first step toward solving it.
The study's authors say their findings suggest that one way to tackle childhood obesity -- which runs rampant in such areas -- is to encourage corner stores to provide and promote more healthful choices. Simply offering baked chips instead of the standard fried varieties and pushing bottled water over the preferred sugary fruit-flavored juice beverages could shave substantial calories, particularly among those kids who eat corner-store food twice a day.
The study talks about kids, schools and nutrition without mentioning parents. Presumably the children, who in this study were in grades 4 through 6 at schools where the overwhelming majority of kids qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch programs, receive their spending money from an adult. Perhaps, in addition to asking corner-store proprietors to revamp their offerings, some effort could be made to help and encourage parents to do their part in guiding their kids' food choices.
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