As a child, my favorite drink in the whole world was orange soda. The color, taste, and sensation of carbonated bubbles rushing to my nose were all very appealing to my 8-year-old self. At the time, I didn’t consider how harmful it was to gulp down 160 calories and 44 grams of sugar per pop. It was common to see orange soda in my kitchen, as it was likely for me to purchase jumbo-sized snacks for half the price of the regular packs at school vending machines.
As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the value of nutritious food and decided to cut back on my soda intake, eventually eliminating it altogether. Despite my efforts to be healthier, the junk food atmosphere hadn’t changed like I had by the time I went to college. The last time I went to a vending machine at UC Berkeley, I was again taunted by the poor snack choices that were offered. From the chips, crackers, treats and sodas, there was really nothing in the vending machine that could satisfy me. So instead of giving into the temptation, I was forced to purchase the healthiest thing that I could find, and that was a bottle of water.
But even a swig of water wouldn’t be able to calm my growling stomach. I wished that there were better options. Now I know there are.
Recently introduced as early as 2009 and growing in popularity is the concept of a healthy vending machine. Unlike traditional vending machines, healthy vending machines are full of whole-grain items, organic foods, produce and items low in sugar, fat, and sodium — even nutritious sides such as salads and soups. Whereas traditional vending machines in workplaces offer only 15 percent of their shelving space to healthy foods, according to a study done in Santa Clara County, the healthy vending machine is committed to providing only the most nutritious products at the lowest prices possible, making it economically viable.
I admit that I was skeptical at first about the healthy vending machine and questioned how it could compete in the junk food market of cheap and processed foods. However, the numbers don’t lie, and they tell us that there is no difference in revenue when vendors implement healthy dispensaries — and that in some places, from Chicago to Jefferson City, Mo., to Baldwin Park, Calif., sales have actually increased in pilot programs. People reported that they were more likely to buy snacks from the vending machine because they were healthy.
Numerous organizations have now joined the healthy vending movement. What began as an idea in 2003 and was sparked by the alarming realization that even gyms offered unhealthy snacks, healthy vending machines can now be found in schools, offices and workplaces across the country.
In addition to offering nutritious choices, some healthy vending machines actually have a video screen that provides health tips and a remote monitoring system that accurately tracks the machines’ performance to ensure that they are always stocked with healthy foods.
Ideas such as healthy vending are important because we live in a time in which one-third of Americans are obese and today’s children are more likely to have heart disease, type II diabetes, and other preventable conditions than ever before. To help put a halt to this trend, here are some things that you can do to support healthy vending:
· You can write your representatives in support of the Healthy Vending Bill (California Assembly Bill 459), which was recently suspended in May 2013 due to opposition by commercial groups.
· You can sign one of the many petitions on Change.org (such as “Make All Foods Sold and Served in Schools Healthy for Kids”) to encourage real change for healthy choices.
· You can speak to management in your workplace, schools and hospitals to encourage them to incorporate healthy vending machines.
· You can become a member of the Bay Area Nutrition & Physical Activity Collaborative and find more healthy vending resources online at www.banpac.org.
While we may feel as if we are surrounded by unhealthy options in our workplaces and schools, we have a choice in what we consume and an obligation to choose the healthier option for ourselves and for our communities. Let’s fight the obesity epidemic and join the millions of Americans who are adopting ways to eat more nutritiously and are living healthier lives!
Mint Bhetraratana is a 2013 UC Berkeley graduate and a volunteer at Bay Area Nutrition and Physical Activity Collaborative.