Climate Action

Get Vending-Machine Healthy!

Too often we associate healthier foods with less satisfying meal choices—just look at our obesity rates. According to the Food Research and Action Center, more than two-thirds of US adults and one-third of US children are overweight or obese. Instead of concentrating our consumption on fruits and vegetables in correct proportions, as a nation we are gobbling down sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in as many different forms as we can get our hands on. Candy bars, potato chips, soda, and fried foods rule the day. Not only is this a matter of taste, but also of price. Often, these super processed and high-calorie foods are the cheapest items to buy. This means that low income communities and children are particularly susceptible to obesity. Schools and cities are starting to combat this issue and cut down on harmful consumption. For instance, this year the USDA banned junk food in all US public schools. Vending machines are limited to selling fruit, dairy products, whole grain foods, protein products or vegetables. This consistent exposure for students to healthy foods paired with effective nutrition education could start to change the obesity trend in children. Chicago parks are following suit and creating nutritional standards for its vending options, providing similar items like dried fruit and granola bars. They’ve got the right idea—and in more ways than one. Not only are their healthy vending machines selling, they’re selling more! A study released by Northwestern University last month showed that park goers were satisfied with their new, healthy food choices. Changing the parks’ 98 vending machines to provide better options has increased per-machine sales from $84 to $371 per month. “What Chicago parks have done is prove a model where vendors can increase nutrition standards and see their revenue go up at the same time,” said Kate Bishop from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The park has also made all their vending options the same price, so that being healthy doesn’t come at a higher price. The parks received the biggest pushback not from its consumers, but from its providers. The machine stockers get a commission for the machines they restock, so they want to fill it with the fast-selling items. In their minds, that’ still the candy that goes so quickly in the other machines. But the parks have proven these naysayers wrong by bringing them more business than they expected. Consumers’ wallets prove that they are looking for more and more healthy options. Parks are a space for all demographics, and are especially important to children. Around 20,000 children are enrolled in park programs. Therefore the parks’ vending options further reinforces the healthy choices that are provided for children at school. This shift towards more conscious eating habits will help create a healthier population and planet. Earth Day Network hopes to see more parks and public buildings take similar steps. -Johanna Bozuwa, EDN Intern