Philadelphia Project Works With Corner Stores to Improve Students' Snacking Choices
Staff at The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based organization that works to increase access to affordable and nutritious food, conducted a Corner Store Campaign to change the school and community environments to support healthy eating among children and adolescents.
Campaign goals included motivating students to choose healthy snacks when purchasing at local corner stores and increasing the number of healthy snacks available at the stores.
By the end of the campaign:
- Children decreased their visits to corner stores by 10 percent per week.
- Children purchased snacks with less fat and fewer calories and spent less money at corner stores.
- Students' knowledge of healthy eating improved significantly.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this unsolicited project with a grant of $117,400 to The Food Trust between September 2004 and June 2006.
The percentage of overweight children and adolescents more than doubled between 1988 and 1999, according to survey data from the National Center for Health Statistics. By 1999:
- Some 13 percent of boys and girls ages 6 to 11 were overweight.
- Some 14 percent of adolescents were overweight.
Being overweight increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and other chronic health problems. Snacking on foods that are high in fat and calories contributes to children's overweight. Such foods are readily available in corner stores.
Children in inner cities tend to visit their neighborhood corner stores at least once a day on their way to or from school, according to surveys conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. The children consume about 750 calories per day in snacks, and the snacks they purchase at corner stores are major contributors of these calories.
The Food Trust is a Philadelphia-based organization that works to increase access to affordable and nutritious food and helps people to improve their diets. The Food Trust launched the Corner Store Campaign in 2004, building on the results of focus groups and surveys of Philadelphia school children, to change the school and community environments to support healthy eating among children and adolescents.
The Food Trust staff and researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's Weight and Eating Disorders Program conducted the focus groups and surveys under a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
RWJF is committed to tackling one of today's most pressing threats to the health of children and families childhood obesity. The goal is to reverse the rise in childhood obesity rates by promoting healthy eating and physical activity in schools and communities throughout the nation.
RWJF places special emphasis on reaching children at greatest risk: African-American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander children living in low-income communities.
The Food Trust staff designed the Corner Store Campaign to respond to the negative impact of corner store purchases on children's health. Project goals were to:
- Increase the number of healthy snacks sold at corner stores.
- Increase the visibility of healthy snacks at corner stores.
- Motivate children to purchase healthy snacks at corner stores.
The campaign involved students in grades four through eight in three Philadelphia public schools and 10 nearby corner stores frequented by students from those schools. More than 90 percent of the students are African American, and over 90 percent qualify for free or reduced school meals. The campaign took place over two school years.
The Food Trust project staff initially planned a project component to increase children's physical activity and reduce their television viewing time. Instead, with RWJF approval, project staff focused on changing the food environment.
First School Year (2004-2005)
During the 20042005 school year, under its grant from RWJF, The Food Trust staff:
- Developed campaign marketing materials.
- Developed lesson plans about healthy eating and trained teachers to use them.
- Developed relationships with corner store owners.
- Reached out to representatives of the snack food industry.
Campaign Marketing Materials
BrownPartners, a Philadelphia-based multicultural social marketing firm, collaborated with The Food Trust project staff, under a subcontract, to produce marketing materials used in the Corner Store Campaign. With input from students, BrownPartners created:
- The "Snack Smart" logo.
- Pens, pencils, pocket folders, bookmarks, key chains, trading cards, t-shirts and stickers.
- Two comic books, entitled "Snack Smart Street Soldiers," which served as the basis for classroom lesson plans on healthy eating. See the Bibliography for details.
BrownPartners also created in-store advertisements such as:
- A "Make a Snackin' Slam Dunk" poster for placement in store windows, doors and counters.
- Corner store "shelf talkers," labels hung on store shelves depicting cartoon-like characters that "talk" to children, persuading them to choose healthier snacks.
- Refrigerator stickers, floor mats, poster boards, banners and balloons.
- Healthy snack and beverage lists.
BrownPartners revised campaign materials as needed throughout the year to keep them current and appealing to students.
Lesson Plans and Teacher Training
The Food Trust project staff developed lesson plans based on the comic books ("Snack Smart Street Soldiers") and trained teachers to deliver lessons in healthy snacking. Classroom activities included the use of mock "corner stores" for students to practice making healthier snack choices.
Teachers distributed campaign materials to students and gave students letters for their parents describing the campaign and asking for their support.
Outreach to Corner Store Owners
The Food Trust project staff developed and maintained relationships with corner store owners throughout the campaign. The Food Trust staff asked store owners to:
- Display healthy snack advertisements both inside and outside their stores.
- Purchase and group healthier snacks on their shelves.
- Share sales receipts from students' snack food purchases.
Outreach to the Snack Food Industry
After project staff held in-person meetings and telephone calls with representatives of snack food companies Herr's and Frito-Lay, the companies:
- Donated snacks for campaign activities.
- Sponsored an after-school taste-testing event with a popular hip-hop radio station.
Second School Year (2005-2006)
Between September 2005 and June 2006, The Food Trust project staff:
- Expanded the campaign to include a peer leadership component.
- Evaluated the campaign's influence on students' knowledge and buying habits.
Beginning in September 2005, student peer leaders spread the word about healthy snacking to their peers by:
- Distributing the comic books to other students.
- Reciting "Snack Smart" morning announcements over the school PA system.
- Decorating classroom doors and holding poster contests to increase campaign awareness and enthusiasm.
- Carrying out "Snack Smart Street Soldiers" missions to choose healthier foods both at school and in the corner stores.
The Food Trust project staff and University of Pennsylvania researchers, under a subcontract, evaluated results of the Corner Store Campaign to determine:
- What students bought and how much they spent at corner stores, through intercept surveys conducted at corner stores in April (189 students), June (160 students), and September (145 students) 2005 and in June 2006 (252 students).
- Changes in corner store inventory by analyzing sales receipts collected in August and September 2005 and in April, May and June 2006.
- What students knew about healthy eating, by conducting surveys in one randomly selected classroom per grade in each of three schools in October 2005 (339 students) and in June 2006 (284 students).
A Community Food and Nutrition Program/U.S. Health and Human Services grant of $49,936 provided additional support for the campaign, along with funding of approximately $53,500 from the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program/U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Project staff reported campaign results from the evaluation conducted with University of Pennsylvania researchers in a report to RWJF:
- Children visited corner stores less often at the end of the Corner Store Campaign than at the beginning. Visits decreased by 10 percent per week over the period, a statistically significant difference.
- Compared with pre-campaign corner store buying habits, at the project's end, although the differences were not statistically significant, children:
- Purchased snack foods with less fat and fewer calories.
- Spent less money at corner stores.
- Students demonstrated statistically significant improvements in their knowledge of healthy eating at the end of the school year in June 2006 compared with their knowledge in the fall of 2005, before the expansion of the campaign. Students:
- Were almost twice as likely to identify healthy drinks correctly.
- Were 40 percent more likely to agree that it is important to read nutrition labels and to choose healthy snacks at corner stores.
- Involve children in creating campaign messages and materials as a way to engage them in the campaign. Strike a balance between teacher direction and youth-led activities, since students are eager to take a strong leadership role in promoting healthy snacking. (Project Director)
- Design healthy snack advertising materials so that children can distinguish them from messages about less healthy snacks among the visual stimuli of a small corner store. (Project Director)
- Engage snack industry leaders in creating joint marketing materials as a way to persuade store owners to provide advertising and shelf space for healthier snacks. (Project Director)
- Develop relationships with key vendors to obtain data on products distributed. Obtaining such information from store owners is difficult, given the large number of vendors involved in each store. (Project Director)
- Conduct intercept surveys to document student purchasing at corner stores. In this study, refusal rates were less than 1 percent and researchers were able to interview nearly all student shoppers. (Project Director)
AFTER THE GRANT
Project staff expects to distribute lesson plans and comic books developed under this project to 80 schools and 22 recreation centers during the 20062007 school year.
Staff continues to work with corner store owners to increase their healthy snack offerings and also pairs farmers' markets with 22 recreation centers and 80 schools to give children easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The Food Trust helped create the National Healthy Community Store Network, formed in 2005, which fosters mutual learning among organizations similar to The Food Trust.
As of November 2006, staff plans to submit articles reporting findings for publication.
According to The Food Trust staff, as of November 2006, Herr's is developing several new low-fat snacks to add to their product line. Herr's and Frito-Lay have expressed interest in continuing to work with The Food Trust to promote healthy snacks to youngsters.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Developing a School- and Community-Based Intervention to Prevent and Reduce Obesity Among Fourth Through Eighth Grade Students
The Food Trust (Philadelphia, PA)
Dates: September 2004 to June 2006
(215) 568-0830 ext. 111
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Snack Smart Street Soldiers: Mission 001 (comic book). Philadelphia: The Food Trust, 2005.
Snack Smart Street Soldiers: Mission 002 (comic book). Philadelphia: The Food Trust, 2006.
"Corner Store Classroom Survey," University of Pennsylvania and The Food Trust, fielded April, June and October 2005; June 2006.
"Corner Store Intercept Survey," University of Pennsylvania and The Food Trust, fielded April, June and October 2005; June 2006.
World Wide Web Sites
www.thefoodtrust.org/php/programs/corner.store.campaign.php. "Corner Store Campaign" on the Web site of The Food Trust, includes information about the Corner Store Campaign's social marketing efforts in Philadelphia inner-city corner stores and schools, along with lesson plans, other resources and links to related programs. Philadelphia: The Food Trust.
Presentations and Testimony
Yael Lehmann, "Hearing on Resolution No. 060171," to the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Public Health and Human Services, May 31, 2006, Philadelphia. Written request from Councilman Michael Nutter, May 22, 2006.
Report prepared by: Eve Shapiro
Reviewed by: Mary B. Geisz
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Judith S. Stavisky