6 things to know about vending machines in hospitals

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They are a familiar sight in office buildings and hospitals, but vending machines have come under fire in the past few years for perpetuating a junk food habit.

The Food and Drug Administration updated its requirements for nutrition information labeling in November, requiring that vending machine providers that operate machines in 20 or more locations to disclose the calories they contain. Many hospitals still keep vending machines that contain chips and candy, contrary to better wisdom about nutrition. However, the landscape may be changing for vending machines, as innovators introduce new technologies to improve nutrition in quick snacks.

Here are six things to know about vending machines in hospitals.

1. Most vending machines still dispense unhealthy food. An analysis of 1,000 vending machines in federal and state public buildings by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that more than 75 percent of their contents were candy, chips and cookies. The analysis included public hospitals.

2. The FDA requires vending machines producers to label all their caloric content by December 1, 2016. The law applies to companies who distribute and operate more than 20 vending machines or who voluntarily register with the FDA to be subject to the final rule. The calorie disclosures must be clear and distinguishable, according to the rule.

3. Several hospitals are leading the charge in healthy vending. Banner Health, a health system throughout Arizona and headquartered in Phoenix, revamped the food in its vending machines earlier this year, changing out the traditional fare for healthier options, according to the Arizona Republic. Cleveland Clinic eliminated sugar-sweetened beverages from its vending machines in 2010, and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, headquartered in Philadelphia, affixes green stickers on the front of healthy options and places them more prominently visible, according to CSPI. CSPI lists 19 other hospitals that are changing their vending machine option standards.

4. New technologies are emerging in vending machines. A new vending machine interface built by Indianapolis-based Vendors Exchange International provides an interactive digital touch-screen for customers. The new screens are retrofitted to old machines, eliminating the need to replace the whole machine. The screens allow for a much easier display of nutritional information, according to Cleveland.com. Another vending machine doesn't sell food at all — MedBox dispenses prescription medication by verifying identity through fingerprints. It is mostly used for pharmaceutical staff.

5. Some exist as a teaching point. Culver City, Calif.-based HUMAN produces the Healthy Vending machines that are stocked with healthier options such as Clif Bars and Pop Chips, which contain fewer calories than ordinary chips. Intermountain produces the LiVeWell Vending Machine, which won't take money or dispense snack foods — instead, it spits out humorous lines about what nutrient-poor foods do to the body. It's mostly a traveling unit that individuals can ask Intermountain to bring to a public location for education purposes.

6. Increasing the nutritional value of foods in vending machines can increase revenue. The CSPI study found that individual facilities with vending machines saw more spending when they replaced the less healthy options with healthier ones.

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