College students like ‘healthy’ vending machines
Snacks are popular with kids of all ages, including college students. With their busy schedules, vending machines often become the go-to snack source for this group, which means the choices are not always the healthiest. A new study examines a healthier version of the vending machine with surprising receptivity from students.
In the study, published in August in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health, researchers conducted an experiment with 200 college students. They replaced some high-sugar, salt and fat snacks sold in two campus vending machines with healthier options. Researchers then surveyed the students to find out how they felt about the new options.
Researchers found that students who were aware of the healthier snack choices were happy to have those options. Athletes especially felt like the healthier options were a positive change. Overall, the study revealed that sales from the vending machine did not decrease with the addition of new healthier options.
Definition of ‘healthy’
The study surveyed the students’ perceptions of food in the vending machines before replacing some of the usual suspects with healthier options and then they were surveyed again afterward. Healthier foods included those defined as having:
- Fewer calories (less than 40 kcal for snacks and cereals, less than 150 kcal for candies)
- Limited added sugar (less than 5 grams)
- Lower fat (less than 3 grams per serving)
- Healthier fats
- No trans fats
- No artificial colors or flavors
- Lower sodium (less than 140 milligrams per serving)
The study findings suggest that it’s possible to offer students healthier snack choices without giving up convenience or taste and that offer significant benefits.
Carrie Ek, clinical nutritionist and registered dietitian at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., also believes a change like this could be beneficial. “I agree that kids (and adults) will go to vending machines. This is inevitable, so if we can make it ‘healthier,’ especially lower in calories, it is a huge help,” she says.
Ek adds that it could be a useful tool in the fight against obesity. “The biggest problem we have today is overweight people. It is especially alarming for young adults. This is the most unhealthy generation of young people and will likely cost the healthcare system a lot of money with future obesity-related illness,” she says.
“The food available to people is what they will eat, so if we can shape that for the better (with lower calorie choices), it is a big public health victory,” adds Ek.
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