Other than price, the numbers D3 and B7 are currently the only other numbers you see next to a bag of chips or a bottle of orange liquid in a vending machine.
But starting this year calorie counts will now be displayed on many vending machines in Santa Monica and throughout the country, a requirement under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
The new vending machine law requires restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations to list calorie content information for standard menu items. Examples of these establishments include fast food restaurants, coffee shops and certain grocery and convenience stores. Other nutrient information must be available in writing upon request. The act also requires vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more machines to disclose calorie content for certain items.
Industry data indicates there is approximately one vending machine for every 40 adults in the United States. Up to 5 percent of the money consumers spend on food away from home is spent on vending machine snacks. “Americans now consume about one-third of their total calories on foods prepared outside the home,” said Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg.
In a proposal by the FDA it states that, although the relationship between obesity and poor dietary choices is multi-faceted, there is a general agreement that reduction in excess calories is helpful in preventing or delaying the onset of excess weight gain. Vending machines are a likely source of high-calorie snacks or discretionary foods, as well as some high-calorie meal items. This suggests that providing calorie information for vending machine food to consumers may have a significant effect on calorie intake, the prevalence of obesity, and thus the cost of health care and lost productivity.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “Giving consumers clear nutritional information makes it easier for them to choose healthier options that can help fight obesity and make us all healthier.”
The guidelines for vending machines state that calorie information will be displayed clearly and prominently; the term “Calories” or “Cal” will be posted next to the number of calories for the food, or calorie information will be posted on a sign in close proximity to the article of food.
The FDA is hoping that the increased attention to calorie information of current vending machine foods will motivate companies to make available lower calorie options, but what we may see is a new hybrid quick-service vending machine like the Burrito Box, currently in West Hollywood and Century City. Similar to Redbox, Burrito Box offers six fresh burrito varieties, claiming to be 100 percent natural and hormone and antibiotic free.
So the next time you straighten the corners of your dollar bill to feed a vending machine and you see the total calories for that grab bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and 20 ounce bottle of Gatorade is 728 calories, you may choose to step over to the new generation vending machine for a sustainable burrito with beans and range-free chicken. Although you might just want to stay away from the machines altogether. It’s much better to prepare meals at home, where you have full control over what goes in your food.
Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D., C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants and quick service establishments nationwide. Learn more at www.eatwelldailynutrition.com.