Despite the pouring rain Thursday, there was still a line of students waiting outside the 7-Eleven on Clear Creek Road.
Many entered the store empty-handed but left with soda, bags of chips and candy.
In the distance, other students could be seen walking to a nearby McDonald’s, another popular lunch spot.
“I come here pretty much every day,” said Dante Walker, 16.
Walker is a sophomore at Shoemaker High School, where he and many of his classmates make the daily trek from the campus into the veritable smorgasbord of nearby fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.
According to information from Google’s maps function, there are at least eight fast-food restaurants within a 1-mile radius of Shoemaker, including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Bush’s Chicken and Sonic.
There also are three convenience stores, including Mickey’s, the 7-Eleven and a CEFCO with a Pizza Hut in the same 1-mile radius.
“Most kids go (off campus) for lunch,” Walker said. “I usually go to 7-Eleven or McDonald’s.”
Shoemaker is not the only high school in the Killeen Independent School District with several fast-food restaurants and convenience stores within walking or driving distance to hungry students.
The same data also showed Killeen High School is within a 1-mile radius of at least eight such businesses, while Ellison High School is close to at least 11. Harker Heights High School had just four fast-food or convenience store-type establishments within the same radius.
Killeen ISD’s Career Center, and its neighboring Pathway’s Academic Campus are the farthest removed, with just a single convenience store within a 1-mile radius. Those campuses are located on Stagecoach Road in an area that is still being developed.
The proximity of fast-food establishments to schools is a growing concern, and may place some students in danger of developing poor eating habits and put them at risk for obesity, said Brennan Davis, an assistant professor of marketing at Baylor University in Waco.
A 2013 study, co-authored by Davis and another professor, Christopher Carpenter, looked at students in California and found that students with fast-food restaurants within a half-mile of their schools consumed fewer servings of fruits and vegetables, consumed more servings of soda, and were more likely to be overweight or obese than those whose schools were not near fast-food restaurants.
“Exposure to poor-quality food environments has important effects on adolescent eating patterns and overweight,” the study noted.
In Texas, the issue was raised by the Austin City Council, which considered banning fast-food and convenience stores near schools. That measure failed.
While Killeen ISD may not be able to control what students eat outside the classroom, it is making efforts to make healthy meals available to students in all of its schools.
Like other districts across the country, Killeen ISD must adhere to stringent school nutrition guidelines enacted by the USDA this year. Those include decreasing the amount of sugar, fat and salt in school meals, increasing the use of whole grains, and doubling the amount of produce they serve, according to previous Herald reports.
Kemarriah Love, a Shoemaker freshman, said he prefers to go off campus for lunch and wasn’t particularly concerned about how healthy the food was compared to what’s served at his school.
“Sometimes the food (at school) is good,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not.”
The Killeen district has been trying to improve students’ health, too, looking to create a tasty menu that students want to eat. This year, the district’s School Health Advisory Committee went as far as hiring a chef to help make lunch recipes healthier and better tasting.
However, while the district tries to get the word out to students about tastier, healthier menus, they are still up against fast-food chains with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of advertising dollars and fewer restrictions on what can go into their menu items.
While they wage that battle, the number of high school students making the daily walk or drive to nearby McDonald’s or CEFCOs are unlikely to dwindle.