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City vending machines to have healthier choices soon

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The City Council unanimously approved a recommendation Tuesday to develop a vending machine nutrition policy that requires at least 50 percent of products sold in machines in city-owned facilities to meet an approved healthy requirement.

“I think it’s something that’s necessary,” Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy said Tuesday. “It would be nice to have better choices at community centers where our kids are. I think this is something our communities need.”

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The new vending machine nutrition policy will set parameters for sodium, sugar and calorie content of food and beverages available in all vending machines. It would also require beverage choices to include ample variety of water, low-fat milk and soy milk, or other similar dairy or non-dairy milk.

The policy will allow soda, sports drinks and diet sodas to be sold from vending machines, but still “ensures the public and employees have access to healthy vending alternatives,” said Mark Prestwich, special projects manager for the city manager’s office.

Approximately 50 city operated vending machines are located in city community centers, corporate yards/office facilities, the city marina and city parking lots or garages, according to the staff report.

Prestwich said that two-thirds of vending machines are in city-owned facilities that are not accessible to the public. Parking garages and community centers take up the remaining third.

In July, the City Council joined the California League of Cities in a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) cities campaign. One of the goals of the HEAL campaign is to support employees in evaluating food choices by providing healthy food alternatives in vending machines located in city-owned or leased facilities.

Prestwich told council members that developing a nutritional policy for vending machines would be a step toward reaching that goal.

“Cities and residents are facing increased health care costs and diminished quality of life due to the epidemic of obesity and being overweight,” Prestwich said. “A healthier nutritional policy (for vending machines) will help promote public health.”

City staff outlined out vending machine nutrition policy alternatives ranging from “no policy” to a “100 percent healthy content” policy for council members to consider.

A 100 percent policy would require that all products in vending machines meet the set healthy requirement. No soda or sports drinks could be included in the selection, however zero-calorie diet soda and diet sports drinks could be included.

“I think we’ll be moving in the direction of making sure our vending machines have healthier options, even if we aren’t going cold turkey and going with a 100 percent healthy policy,” Councilman Kevin McCarty said.

Council woman Bonnie Pannell said she supported a 50 percent policy because it is “a fair compromise” between “doing nothing and going all out.”

Councilman Steve Cohn said a 50 percent policy would “create real choices” where he feels none currently exist with vending machines.

“I don’t see ‘choices’ in those machines,” Cohn said. “Cookies and soda and sugar drinks – it’s a choice between a lot of sugar and way too much sugar. That’s not a choice.”

One opponent of the measure told council members that making food choices a policy issue would inhibit consumers’ freedom to make their own decisions.

“People should be able to choose whatever they want to drink or whatever fits their needs,” Sacramento resident John Swain said.

Another opponent said creating a nutritional policy for vending machines would limit the flexibility for vending operators to offer products of their choice.

“We believe that the ability to choose should rest with our consumers, not be mandated by policy,” said Gary Watson, a Coca-Cola Bottling Company representative.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby agreed.

“I think these things should be consumer-driven,” Ashby said. “It’s really about access. The decision lies with the person who is putting their money into the machine.”

Ashby said that Sacramento is “leading the way” to making sure people have healthy options, but she didn’t want to create a policy that would tell people what they could or coulnd’t spend their money on.

“We are looking for balance here,” Ashby said.

Prestwich said that pursuing a new vending agreement for city-operated facilities would also allow the city to reduce energy usage and incorporate technological advances such as the ability to pay with debit and credit cards.

The city pays the energy costs of machines placed in city-operated facilities, Prestwich said, and this would be an opportunity to reduce energy usage by implementing a requirement that any new machines have an Energy Star certification.

New vending machines with Energy Star certification are up to 50 percent more energy efficient than standard machines, according to the staff report.

State legislation passed in 2005 (SB12 and SB965) that raised food standards and mandated compliance to higher-standard nutritional policies for schools throughout the state.

Although only vending machines placed at schools fall under the mandate of those laws, many cities that have adopted nutrition policies for their vending machines voluntarily set SB12 and SB965 as the standard to meet in their policies – regardless of the machine location.

Sacramento’s new nutritional policy for vending machines in city-owned facilities will fully satisfy the requirements of SB12 and – because it allows sodas and sports drinks along with other healthier choices – will partially fulfill the requirements of SB965.

The City Council directed staff to write a nutritional policy as a standard for all vending machines at city-owned facilities and to issue a request for proposals for new city vending service contracts.

Staff will review proposals they receive and bring a recommendation to the City Council for approval.

Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter for The Sacrameto Press. Follow her on twitter @MelissaCorker.

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