Monday, October 6, 2014

State and Local Vending Machines on Government Property Mostly Stocked with Soda, Candy

58 Percent of Vended Drinks Unhealthy; Only 5 Percent of Vended Foods Healthy

WASHINGTON—A first-of-its-kind national study of 853 vending machines on 260 state and local public properties found that the machines were stocked primarily with unhealthy products like soda and other sugary beverages, candy, chips, and cookies, snack cakes, and other sweet baked goods.  The study, released today by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, examined vending machines in agency buildings, state university and community college buildings, recreation facilities, city and town halls, courthouses, highway rest stops, and other public spaces.  Fifty-eight percent of beverages sold were soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages, and only 42 percent were healthier options such as water (16 percent), low-calorie beverages (23 percent), and 100 percent juice (3 percent).  

As for foods, the vending machines were even worse.  Thirty-two percent of the food was candy, followed by chips (24 percent) and sweet baked goods (15 percent).  Only 5 percent of vended foods were healthy (fruits, vegetables, or nuts).

Volunteers in 37 states examined more than 20,000 slots in drink- and food-vending machines.

“Despite the progress made in schools, vending machines in other state and local facilities are serving up mostly junk, undermining the obesity- and chronic-disease-prevention efforts conducted by many of those same state and local governments,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan.  “There have been pockets of progress but too many states, counties, cities, and towns are still in the junk-food business.”

In 2010, Chicago’s Park District implemented nutrition standards for its vended foods.  A recent survey of park-goers found that 88 percent were satisfied with the healthier options, such as dried fruit and granola bars.  In fact, the leading complaint in the survey was that the new options were not healthy enough.  New York City, Boston, the District of Columbia, Tennessee, and Kansas City, MO, also have begun enacting nutrition standards for vending machines on public property.  Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation removing a sunset provision on a prior law requiring that one-third of all beverages served in state buildings be water, milk, 100-percent juice, or a low-calorie sports drink, and requiring 35 percent of foods to meet guidelines limiting fat, saturated fat, and sugar content.

CSPI recommends that states and local governments make 100 percent of beverage and food slots on public property healthier options.  New regulations requiring calorie labeling on most vending machines, now being finalized by the Food and Drug Administration pursuant to the Affordable Care Act, could also help consumers identify and purchase healthier options.

“Implementing nutrition standards for vending machines on public property is a common-sense, low-cost strategy for officials to reduce the costs they pay to treat obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases,” said CSPI nutrition policy associate Katherine Bishop.  

This study focused on state and local government property, though a number of federal agencies and national parks also have been replacing unhealthy food and beverages with better options.  However, a photo circulated on Twitter by CQ Roll Call correspondent Steven Dennis showed a White House vending machine slot dispensing a Jumbo Honey Bun with 590 calories, 17 grams of saturated fat, and 30 grams of sugar—suggesting that federal facilities have room for improvement also.

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