A team of researchers from Temple University and The Food Trust 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 realized 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 lead researcher Stephanie Vander Veur, MPH, director of clinical research at Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education.
The researchers have revealed that the majority of the students from seven Philadelphia middle schools were African American (47.1%) followed by Hispanic (19.7%), Asian (18.2%) and White (11.9%).
They also revealed that almost 50 per cent of the children were overweight or obese, with approximately three-quarters walking to and from school.
The study showed that about 70 per cent of the students bought food or drink on their commute to school.
Referring to the studies conducted in the past, the researchers said that school-based interventions can be very effective in preventing overweight and obesity in large groups of students.
However, they add, the external environment - home, corner stores, restaurants - can undermine school programs, which is why there is a need examine what kids are consuming outside of school, and how to make their environments healthier.
The Temple and The Food Trust researchers said that their Corner Store project was aimed at determining such questions.
"We're teaching children about making healthier choices in schools, using social marketing to reinforce nutrition information, giving students the opportunity to be advocates for healthier choices in their own communities and working with store owners to stock fresh fruit and other healthy snacks for youngsters to buy.
By involving kids in the process, we're ensuring that the messages really appeal to kids," said Sandy Sherman of The Food Trust.
"Because many Philadelphia students walk to school, it's important that we couple our school-based prevention programs with efforts to improve the snacks and drinks for sale on their way to and from school," said Vander Veur.
The findings were presented at The Obesity Society's annual scientific meeting on Saturday.