Opinion: Access to healthy food options matter

Imagine this:

It’s break time, and you only have minutes to spare before you are expected back to your afternoon class. With your stomach growling, you speed walk to the West Coast Grocery store. 

However, the long winding line at the cash register makes you change your mind. 

The clock is ticking and you aren’t sure what to do. Then you see it — the vending machine. Snacks galore — just what you need to make it through class, right? But about an hour after dosing a Coca-Cola bottle and a bag of chips, you begin to feel a bit sluggish. Like a car with bad fuel, you find it to be difficult to power through the rest of your day. If only those quick and affordable treats you eat were healthier, too.

Vending machines are one of the most convenient and cost effective options students have to acquire food. However, if you take a closer look, they’re also pretty unhealthy. Unfortunately, many of the vending machines around campus are stocked with a disproportionate amount of unhealthy food like soda, chips, candy and other overly processed foods. Many of these foods contain an excessive amount of sugar, saturated fat and/or empty calories. 

In 2014 the USDA created the “Smart snacks in school rule.” which caused many elementary and high schools to ban junk food vending machines — and for good reason. A recent study conducted by students at the University of Michigan found vending machine purchases in schools added an estimated 253 calories to the diets of 22% of students who eat them everyday. Another study reported by CBS found states that restricted junk food distribution gained less weight over a three year period.

College students who often find themselves in a crunch for time or low on funds may opt for vending machine snacks more than others which could negatively impact their health. 

One solution could be modeling the Healthy Campus Initiative at the University of California . This initiative marked each machine with a HCI sticker and placed stickers on each row of healthy snacks. Less than healthy snack prices were raised higher than healthier snacks. The school determined of those who approached HCI machines without the intent to buy a specific item, 50% selected a healthy choice.

Perhaps if we could incorporate a sticker method for the machines we already have on campus or invest in vending machines that had an abundance of healthier food options we could see an improvement in the health and performance of college students.