Montgomery Co. passes healthy vending machine measure

Healthier food will be coming to Montgomery County's vending machines. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
WASHINGTON — The Montgomery County Council unanimously voted Tuesday on a measure that would require all vending machines on county property to offer healthy snacks and beverages alongside the regular fare.

Under the measure, 50 percent of the items for sale in county vending machines will have to meet American Heart Association nutrition standards for sugar, salt, fat and other measures over the next two years.

After that, the healthful content would be required to reach 65 percent. In addition, every vending machine that dispenses beverages would be required to offer bottled water.

“Studies have shown that children who drink one or more sugary beverages a day are 60 percent more likely to become obese,” said Shawn McIntosh, executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, an advocacy group that lobbies for healthy vending machine laws.

Akil Patterson, deputy director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, said of the vote, “We’re excited about it!”

Patterson says it’s important to provide more healthy choices to Maryland residents, especially when they’re on the go. “And so 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.”

Patterson stresses that his group is not trying to play the role of food police. When it comes to sugary drinks or snacks, “Once in a while is OK, especially when you’re going out for a day in the amusement park or something like that — it’s a treat.” But on a daily basis, Patterson says, it’s important to provide kids with more nutritious selections.

All food or beverage items will be required to have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving and less than 200 milligrams of sodium per package. Any beverage will need to be less than 250 calories or 20 fluid ounces.

Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association, said in a statement that the council’s action “comes at a time when the beverage industry is already doing an exceptional job providing beverage choices for vending machines.”

She added, “We have voluntarily placed clear calorie labels on the front of all of our bottles, cans, and packs. We are placing calorie awareness signs on vending machines, fountain equipment and retail coolers in Maryland and other states.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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