Monday, December 7, 2009

Health Care Reform and Vending Machines - Health Blog - WSJ

Here’s a health-care overhaul detail that we hadn’t heard about until just now: The health-care bills in both the House (p. 1,515) and Senate (p. 1,233) would require vending machines to display calorie counts for the food they dispense.

The requirement, which wouldn’t apply for people who own fewer than 20 vending machines, is part of sections in both bills that would also require chain restaurants to post calorie counts.

Some public-health types have been pushing calorie counts in restaurants for a while now, as a way to fight obesity. But one recent study found that low-income people in New York City didn’t change their eating patterns at chain restaurants after a local law forced restaurants to post calorie counts. (City health officials told the New York Times that the study, which was conducted right after the rule took effect, might not have captured longer-term shifts in eating prompted by the calorie counts.)

Anyway, it’s easy enough to see how a restaurant would add a calorie count to the menu, but it’s somewhat harder to figure out where that sort of thing would go on a vending machine. But the legislation leaves vending machine owners an out if nutritional information is clearly visible on the product packaging, through the vending machine window.

Coca-Cola recently said that it will post calorie counts on the front of almost all the drinks it sells around the world. If the health bills pass with the vending machine requirement intact, we could imagine makers of vending-machine snacks making a similar move, which would relieve vending machine owners of the burden of posting calorie counts on the outside of the machine.

Still, the folks from the National Automatic Merchandising Association don’t like the rule. In a story posted this morning, an official from the trade group tells NPR that following the labeling requirements would be “pretty expensive” for people who own the machines.