Montgomery Co. bill aims for healthy vending machines

WASHINGTON — The Montgomery County Council is considering a proposal to require that vending machines on county property be stocked with a certain percentage of food and drinks that meet healthy guidelines.

Under the proposed legislation, at least 50 percent of vending machine items on county property would need to meet the following criteria:

  • Less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving
  • No more than 200 milligrams of sodium per package
  • For beverages, fewer than 40 calories per serving
  • Also for beverages, no more than 250 calories or 20 fluid ounces

Baltimore and D.C. have similar laws.

The Maryland Beverage Association is not fighting the measure. Ellen Valentino, the association’s executive vice president, said her group is fairly neutral on the matter but does want to raise issues for lawmakers to consider as the legislation moves forward.

“It does ban certain products from the sale,” Valentino said. “But we make it all. If [people] want to buy it, we have it available.”

Valentino did express concern with a bill provision that healthier options such as milk be priced less or the same as items not meeting nutritional standards, such as Mountain Dew.

That, she suggested, would cause vendors to raise prices of some items.

Bill supporters disagreed.

“The intent is that they be comparably priced,” said Shawn McIntosh, executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland. “Because one of the arguments used to be that the healthy stuff was going to be too expensive.”

The bill’s sponsor, Council member George Leventhal, said specific criteria for items allowable to fulfill percentage quotas will be established as the legislation is created.

At a public hearing on the matter Tuesday, speakers advocating for government intervention to ensure healthier choices detailed a litany of statistics about obesity and chronic disease, figures that they believe the measure could help counter.

“Twenty-five percent of adolescents now have either Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes,” McIntosh said. “Twenty-five percent of adolescents,” she exclaimed. “That’s a crime.”

The “Healthy Vending Standards” proposal is endorsed by a majority of county council members and would formalize a practice already in place through county contracts with vendors.

If the measure is passed this summer, it would initially require that by July 1, 50 percent of a vending machine’s options meet specific nutritional standards. By July 2018, that would change to 65 percent.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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