Vending Machines: Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice

Innovation

Sep 22, 2019

New Local Research:  AHA-UNF Healthy Vending Policy Research results indicate healthy food policy is a win-win

The American Heart Association joined with CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, to commission a study to improve the quality of snacks and beverages purchased in vending machines. Several public policies have been enacted to reduce the negative impact that vending machine contents can have on health.  But because vending machines are an important source of revenue for hospitals and universities there have been barriers to incorporating healthy food choices into vending with the perception that sales will decrease.  

The purpose of a multi-site study held in Jacksonville and led by Dr. Lauri Wright of University of North Florida in partnership with the American Heart Association was to evaluate the impact of implementing a policy to improve the quality of snacks and beverages purchased in vending machines.  The study was done in conjunction with Brooks Rehabilitation, Nova Southeastern University, City Health and Canteen. The project was conducted at two sites: Brooks Rehabilitation’s largest outpatient clinic and Nova Southeastern University.  Overall the healthy vending policy study was a success. The results of this multi-site study found that the implementation of a healthy food policy and the option of healthy choices in fact increased sales.

Vending machines can be a source of unhealthy food and beverages- nutrient sparse, high in sugar and fat, low in fiber, with an average of over 200 calories per serving. Over-consumption of these “convenience” snacks increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, some cancers and obesity.  The important role of food and nutrition in public health is being increasingly recognized as crucial for its potential impact on health-related quality of life and economics, both at societal and individual levels.  With their content modified, vending machines can contribute to making the healthy choice, the easy choice.  

During the 2-month pilot study, the usual snacks contained in the vending machines at the sites were adjusted so that 65% of products in the selected vending machines met American Heart Association healthy vending standards and included point-of-purchase nutrition labeling to educate consumers as they were making choices to promote the healthy products. Dr. Lauri Wright of University of North Florida who conducted the study stated,  “The increase in sales in this study is a very important finding because vending companies often cite sales as the reason, they don’t offer healthy snack option. Our study, however, showed that when consumers were provided access to healthy snack choices, they chose them. Bottom line, access + educational nudges resulted in consumers’ choosing the healthier snack choices. With 25% of Americans’ calories coming from snacks, offering healthy snack options have strong public health implications.”

Brooks Rehabilitation has implemented the Healthy Choices in their hospital vending as well.  “Nutrition is an important component of maintaining good health.  Brooks was excited to be a part of this pilot study to explore healthier food and snack options to improve the quality of life for our employees, patients and guests,” said Doug Baer, Brooks Rehabilitation CEO. 

Between the 2 sites there was an increase in sales illustrating that incorporating healthy vending guidelines permanently is a win-win for all; the food service contractors stand to maintain or increase sales while consumers have access to snack options to improve health. Though we cannot calculate the exact healthy savings of this pilot, it can be said that a large-scale implementation of the AHA policy has the potential to significantly improve health and decrease health costs.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.