Prince George’s considers vending machine standards expansion

WASHINGTON — Prince George’s County, Maryland, may join other area localities to establish nutritional standards for vending machines on county-owned property.

The proposal being parsed in a county council committee Thursday would require at least 50 percent of the stock in vending machines on county-owned property be healthy options. It also would ban any food or beverage exceeding certain specified limits.

“We’ll be at the table. We’re not supporting the legislation, but look forward to the conversation and being part of that,” said Ellen Valentino, who represents local beverage companies.

Valentino said her group thinks giving people choices is great, but is concerned by parts of the proposal that restrict options. “There are a host of full calorie products that are made locally, and made in Silver Spring,” she said.

The proposed new rules would prohibit products with:

  • 0.5 grams of trans-fat per serving
  • 200 milligrams of sodium per package
  • Beverages larger than 20 ounces or exceeding 250 calories

Under the proposal, a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew, at 290 calories, would be excluded. A 20-ounce bottle of Fanta Orange Soda, at 270 calories, would also not be allowed.

“It does ban certain products, it just absolutely does,” Valentino notes of the proposal.

Advocates of the measure quote a litany of statistics about obesity and chronic disease, figures that they believe the measure could help counter.

“There are going to be products that may not necessarily be in there,” said Akil Patterson of Sugar Free Kids Maryland. “We’re saying listen, let’s expand choices for people.”

Patterson quotes a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which supports municipalities establishing health standards for vending machines.

“Vending options are the first step in people’s tendency to purchase items that are healthier for them,” Patterson said.

A minimum standard for healthy vending machine options on city and county owned property already is in effect in D.C., Howard and Montgomery Counties and Baltimore City in Maryland.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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