The New York Times reports that there’s a whole new type of bullying happening just outside Philadelphia schools.

Tatyana Gray bolted from her house and headed toward her elementary school. But when she reached the corner store where she usually gets her morning snack of chips or a sweet drink, she encountered a protective phalanx of parents with bright-colored safety vests and walkie-talkies. The scourge the parents were combating was neither the drugs nor the violence that plagues this North Philadelphia neighborhood. It was bad eating habits.

“Candy!” said one of the parents, McKinley Harris, peering into a small bag one child carried out of the store. “That’s not food.” The parents standing guard outside the Oxford Food Shop are foot soldiers in a national battle over the diets of children that has taken on new fervor.

Well, isn’t that wonderful. Wild packs of hysterical parents yelling at kids trying to get a morning snack. But kids aren’t the only target of this bullying. The school’s principal recently asked store owners to refuse sales to kids during school hours and threatened a boycott for noncompliance.  That certainly puts store owners in the awkward position of refusing patrons and criticizing their customers’ choices. Another group is pressuring these convenience stores to offer healthier foods – with some pretty depressing results, for the suppliers and store owners. 

Jetro Cash and Carry, which supplies many corner stores, joined the effort. But Jack Sagen, a Jetro sales and marketing director, said he recently lost $500 buying several dozen cases of 15-cent bags of sliced apples that perished before they could catch on with the stores. 

The article then tries to make the connection between snack foods and obesity:

While research suggests that as little as an extra 200 calories a day can make an adult overweight, a recent study led by Gary D. Foster, the director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, found that children were getting 360 calories a day from chips, candy and sugary drinks – all for an average of $1.06. 

The only point being made here is that calories can be cheap. As for whether kids are getting fat on this food, it appears snack foods are getting more blame than they deserve. A 2005 Harvard studyof just under 15,000 9-14-year-olds found that “although snack foods may have low nutritional value, they were not an important independent determinant of weight gain among children and adolescents.” As for those clarion calls for more fruits and vegetables, a 2003 Harvard studyreviewed the same number of 9-14-year-olds found “no relation between intake of fruits, fruit juice, or vegetables (alone or combined) and subsequent changes in BMI z-score.”

The article goes on to report that it was the school principal, frustrated that the pressure on corner stores failed, who called Operation Town Watch Integrated Services (an organization that normally helps neighborhoods fight crime and drugs) to stand guard outside the stores. 

Philadelphia has one of the highest crime rates in the United States and drugs use in the city is also extremely high. This New York Times story also comes at the same time the Philadelphia Inquirerlaunched aseven-part series on violence in Philadelphia’s public schools which describes assaults on teachers and gang-style attacks on students. In the 2009-2010 school year alone, Philadelphia schools reported over 4,500 violent incidents.

Considering the real dangers facing kids today, you’d think this group could find better uses of their time than to peek in a kid’s grocery bag for chips and cookies.