In the United States alone, there are more than 4.6 million vending machines that dispense more than $7 billion in products annually. More than 55 percent of the machines are located in offices and manufacturing facilities where many people spend the majority of their time, making them one of the most convenient sources for food throughout the day.
When you think of vending machines, which products come to mind? Candy bars and cookies? Potato chips, perhaps? How about sugary beverages? Let’s face it, most of the products in vending machines are loaded with refined sugars and unhealthy fats, the root cause of the nation’s diabetes epidemic and other chronic diseases.
Most people possess a general understanding of the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods and know that most vending machine options are poor substitutes for healthy snacks, not to mention meals. If most people also possess a desire to live a long, healthy life, then it begs the question: Why are vending machines so heavily utilized?
Perhaps the biggest reason for the popularity of vending machines lies in the fast-paced lives that many people live, and the impact that has on eating decisions. When people are hungry, sound decision-making tends to be diminished in favor of the “impulse buy,” which is often unhealthy, sugar-laden and over-processed. What can be done to combat these powerful physiological forces?
Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, the United States Department of Agriculture took a powerful step to eliminate unhealthy snacks from school environments by implementing “Smart Snacks in Schools” guidelines, which apply to snacks and vending machine foods that are sold during the school day. To qualify as a Smart Snack, a snack must meet these general nutrition standards:
- Be a grain product that contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight, or
- Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product or a protein food; or
- Be a combination food that contains at least one-quarter cup of fruit and/or vegetable; and
- The food must meet specific nutrient standards for calories, sodium, sugar and fats.
This was a necessary step to give kids the nutrition they need to learn and grow. But can these guidelines translate in some way to the vending machines in worksites and other places in the community?
The answer is “yes.”
The Blue Zones Project Food Environment Committee, comprised of local nutrition experts and concerned citizens from Beaver Dam, Juneau, and Horicon, collaborated to propose a policy that requires 50 percent of snack options in designated vending machines to meet Smart Snacks in Schools guidelines, or 50 percent of beverage options to be sugar-free.
To date, the cities of Beaver Dam and Juneau have adopted this policy for all vending machines located within their city worksites. Though candy bars, cookies, and chips are still likely to be there, there are now healthier choices to keep you fueled between meals.