A new University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study of vending machines suggests people will chose healthy options when they have the chance.
The campus-based study found that when given the choice between cookies, chips, and candy bars verse nuts, trail mix, and air-popped snacks, consumers went healthy.
The study is believed to be the first of its kind on an American college campus.
As part of the UC Global Food Initiative, the University of California has compiled case studies of how research done at UC campuses, including UCLA’s vending machine study, has contributed to food and agriculture policy.
Among those case studies cited is the study that was done by members of UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative in collaboration with UCLA’s Housing and Hospitality Services.
Researchers planned, implemented, and evaluated a pilot vending machine program aimed at encouraging customers to choose healthier items over conventional snack items without compromising the financial viability of the machines.
“What we aimed to do was methodologically identify healthier products and encourage customers to choose them, all without compromising the machines’ financial performance,” said Joe Viana, a doctoral student at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health who conducted the study.
The study showed an improved likelihood of purchasing something healthier without losing revenue or profit. When surveyed, many respondents said they would like to see more healthy snacks in campus machines.
This research is now being used to inform the vending operations across the UC system, as part of the UC Global Food Initiative, and could be applied more broadly as well.
The financial ramifications associated with the offering of unhealthy products is seldom discussed. Sale of vending machine items are a profitable enterprise to the vending machine operators and to the institutions hosting the machines.
As such, when education officials were considering banning the sale of sodas, chips, and candy in California’s K-12 schools, they called in UC Berkeley researchers to analyze the financial implications.
Could schools afford to limit these lucrative items?
The answer from the study was surprising: Cutting the sale of junk food actually helped the bottom line because students were more likely to eat healthy, subsidized meals, a change that boosted federal funding to the state and improved nutrition.
As a result of the work by advocates armed with data from this UC study, California became the first state in the nation to limit the sale of these kinds of unhealthy foods and beverages in K-12 schools.
Body mass index studies of California students indicated a reduction in obesity after the policy change, fueling adoption of similar policies across the country. The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update nutrition standards for schools nationwide.
Another new area of health policy is the attempt to improve the health of children and students by reducing consumption of sugary drinks.
The average American consumes 45 gallons of sugary drinks per year. Liquid sugar, such as in sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks, is the leading single source of added sugar in the American diet. And there’s growing scientific evidence that it’s the most dangerous way to consume added sugar.
Based upon research that discovered a substantial need for improving the beverages served to young children in licensed child care, California has passed the Healthy Beverages in Child Care Law (AB 2084), aimed at offering alternatives to sugary drinks.
This law currently stands among the most comprehensive of any state laws on child care beverages. After follow-up research found the need to raise awareness of the law, the Legislature passed AB 290, requiring that newly licensed child care providers receive at least one hour of child nutrition training starting in 2016.
Meanwhile, UC San Francisco, whose SugarScience initiative informs the public about sugar and its impact on health, has set an example by launching a Healthy Beverage Initiative. UC San Francisco will sell only zero-calorie beverages or non-sweetened drinks with nutritional value and will phase out the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in its onsite cafeterias and food vendors, vending machines, and retail locations.
UCSF is the first university to implement this strategy across both its medical center and campus, and other institutions in San Francisco are following suit.