After a unanimous County Council vote, all government buildings, including public school buildings, will now be required to ensure that each of their vending machines are equally stocked with non-healthy and healthy foods, as determined by the American Heart Association (AHA).
This measure, passed in response to growing community concern over school nutrition, mandates that within the next two years at least 50 percent of the food and drink options sold in government vending machines meet the AHA’s nutritional requirements regarding trans fat, sodium and caloric content. To be more specific, a minimum of half of vending machines in the county must contain less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving, a maximum of 200 mg of sodium per package and for beverages, fewer than 40 calories per serving and no more than 250 calories or 20 oz. in total. The bill also requires that each vending machine sell bottled water and, after two years have passed, increase their “healthy” inventories to 65 percent.
In addition to public schools, this bill will affect vending machines in public courthouses, libraries and government owned offices. According to NBC4, this would add up to 150 to 200 vending machines having their content changed to favor healthier options.
The new vending machine regulation was supported by Sugar Free Kids Maryland, a coalition of organizations promoting the health and nutrition of the state’s youth, whose lobbying activities led to widespread support for its passing among the county’s council. The organization, along with many other community members, see the change in vending machine content in public schools as being highly influential to the choices students are making in regards to their health, simply by providing alternative, low-sugar options. “In order to make sure that they have an option — a choice — when they go to these vending machines, we wanted to decrease the amount of sugars that are in some of these products. Now, the industry could always make changes to some of their formulas, and not put so much sugar in them,” Sugar Free Kids Maryland’s deputy director Akil Patterson said to wtop.com.
The Montgomery County beverage industry is not worried over the change in vending machine content, as they believe their drinks already meet the AHA’s standards of nutritional value. “The beverage industry and Montgomery County are already doing an extraordinary job providing beverage choices for vending machines,” Maryland-Delaware-D.C.
Beverage Association executive vice president Ellen Valentino said in a statement to NBC4.
While this bill will certainly improve the likelihood of county residents eating healthier, it is uncertain what impact it will have. It is for this reason that students, although supportive of the county’s progress towards promoting good health, are skeptical of its ability to yield significant change. “I think it’s a good idea. While it won’t make a big difference in people’s lifestyle choices, it can’t hurt having healthier options,” senior Katie Fairhurst said.
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