Continued coverage of the Soda Tax ballot initiatives in San Francisco and Berkeley, CA show yet another example of how government mechanisms can influence healthy food choices. While our fingers are crossed for these bills to pass in November 2014, the good folks at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have shed some light on yet another step that state and local government can take when it comes to protecting the public’s health and getting unhealthy food out of their vending machines.
Think of your last trip to the DMV, the courthouse, a public park, or any other tax-dollar funded facility, and try to imagine the snack and beverage offerings in the vending machines. If you drummed up a list of candy bars, chips, sodas, and snack cakes, then you just described 95% of the vending machines on government owned properties according to CSPI’s study. Researchers examined 853 vending machines on 260 publicly owned properties and found that the majority of the “food” offerings were junk, according to the CSPI press release:
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)."
The report, which has many more alarming statistics than those listed above, is a call to arms for holding governments and public officials accountable to provide the public with healthy food options. Roberto A. Ferdman of The Washington Post accurately explains that while the nefarious model of vending junk food ultimately falls on the manufacturers who make that food and the companies who pack it into the vending machines, governments have within their authority the power to change the model as they see fit.
Federal, state, and local governments don't, of course, stock the vending machines themselves — vending machine retailers do. But altering the contents of food and beverage dispensers at city halls and public parks around the country is, of course, within federal, state, and local government's power.”
That is to say, that not all governments are ignorant of this problem, nor that they are resting on their laurels. The CSPI report does a great job of acknowledging plenty of states and municipalities that have put in programs to adopt healthier food offerings, and mentions innovative companies that are helping to make these choices possible. Changing the vending machine shelves to healthier options is an easy and obvious step in helping create a healthier country. CSPI’s “Vending Contradictions” report went on to note,
States from Mississippi to California and localities from North Little Rock, AR to New York City have implemented policies to improve the food and beverage offerings on their public property. These policies are being implemented in a variety of venues, from vending in health department facilities to all food provided in parks and recreation department facilities to all government property and programs. This is a low-cost strategy to address nutrition and obesity.”
We’re glad to see that some places are already on this issue, and we are grateful for CSPI’s research. We hope to see more publicly funded properties—including those owned by the federal government—follow this trend and implement this information into their vending machine options.
Tax on Sodas Eyed in San Francisco, Berkeley via ABC News
The government is still stocking vending machines with junk food via Washington Post
Vending Contradictions: Snack and Beverage Options on Public Property via Center for Science in the Public Interest
State and Local Vending Machines on Government Property Mostly Stocked with Soda, Candy via Center for Science in the Public Interest