WASHINGTON, DC - The National Automatic Merchandising Association inaugurated its "Balanced for Life" education and publicity campaign at a press conference in the nation's capital. The program has been formulated to educate parents, teachers, students and the general public about nutrition and the components of a balanced diet, as well as the importance of physical activity in maintaining healthy body weight.
On hand for the kickoff was National Football League Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, legendary Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and punt return specialist, who now chairs the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Swann emphasized that "Physical activity should not be an elective; it should be part of our daily lifestyle." The event was hosted by Monumental Vending (Beltsville, MD), a leading provider of refreshment services in Washington and its Maryland and Virginia environs.
NAMA president and chief executive officer Richard W. Geerdes introduced the campaign, which has benefited from two important new partnerships since it was announced last year.
One is with Columbus Children's Hospital, developer of the "Snackwise" nutrition rating system. The recommendations of that system are available to consumers; detailed information and a computer program for assessing a snack on the basis of its serving size and the data on its nutritional information label can be purchased by schools and businesses.
The other new partner is America Scores, a successful and popular after-school soccer and literacy program. NAMA and America Scores are working together for cooperative advancement of nutrition education and physical activity among school children. The partnership involves using "Balanced for Life" to deliver nutrition education directly to students in 12 cities
The "Balanced for Life" program also will sponsor after-school soccer programs in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco/Oakland and Washington, DC. At the end of the spring semester, the program will end on a high note with a day-long soccer "Balanced for Life Jamboree" in each of those four cities, during which hundreds of students, parents, teachers and community leaders will turn out to cheer on their teams during back-to-back matches.
NAMA "Balanced for Life" will deliver nutrition education training programs directly to teachers and students in the target America Scores schools. These will include bilingual "Balanced for Life" educational materials, including posters, that will be supplied to students, teachers, parents and school officials. And, through the partnership, America Scores has installed a link to the "Balanced for Life" website on its home page at americascores.org.
The "Snackwise" rating system is designed to help youngsters understand the manner in which different food choices fit into an overall balanced diet. It simplifies this often confusing subject by color-coding items to recommend the frequency with which they may be consumed. Snacks that are to be chosen moderately are coded yellow; those that should only rarely be chosen are coded red, and those that may be enjoyed often are coded green. The system was developed by Columbus Children's Hospital's Borden Center for Nutrition & Wellness.
Jan Ritter, a research nutritionist with the prestigious Ohio institution, attended the "Balanced for Life" rollout to explain the "Snackwise" rating system in detail. She described it as an easy-to-use, enjoyable guide that can help youngsters form sound dietary habits early in life. Information can be found online at snackwise.org.
Jay Engeln of the National Association of Secondary School Principals also addressed the conference, emphasizing the importance of the campaign to school systems. "The 'Balanced for Life' campaign, sponsored by the National Automatic Merchandising Association, is important because it provides school leaders with a valuable resource to assist in making informed decisions relative to providing healthy choices for vending machine products, while maintaining a revenue source for academic needs and extracurricular activities," he said.
NAMA's Geerdes introduced the campaign's new website, which features three cartoon characters, "AJ the Athlete," "Healthy Hazel" and "Shaun the Smart Guy," who personify Exercise, Nutrition and Education. They will undergo a series of adventures as they endeavor to become more fit and healthy. The kids' portion of the site also features a "Nutrition: Fact or Fiction" section, which dispels myths about nutrition (and reinforces correct beliefs), as well as a "Get Moving!" section that encourages physical activity. Among resources for parents is "Kitchen Magician," which offers quick and healthy cooking ideas.
Monumental Vending's Kushner observed that "The 'Balanced for Life' initiative comes at a time when our nation continues to be focused on escalating childhood obesity rates." For that reason, he emphasized, the vending industry should be commended for taking the initiative to help schools, parents and teachers address the problem.
"At Monumental, we've always been at the forefront of the industry, which is why we are proud to be here today helping to launch this valuable program," he explained.
Geerdes concluded, "NAMA's 'Balanced for Life' campaign is one of the most important initiatives our industry has ever launched, because it will help our nation's youth to understand how they can take steps to live better, healthier lives. On behalf of the thousands of dedicated professionals in our industry, we're proud to be here with you, as together we work to protect the health and wellbeing our our nation's youth."
A "Balanced for Life" infrastructure has been put into place, including a network of registered dietitians who can offer advice to NAMA state councils. Council presidents have been informed of the availability of both a dietitian and a public relations executive who can assist them with school vending, media and legislative issues.
In Indiana, a registered dietitian already is working with the Indiana Vending Council and the state legislature, to amend potentially harmful legislation now up for consideration.
Production also is underway on an educational Combating Childhood Obesity segment, slated for cablecast on the Women's Entertainment Network. It also will run on local network affiliate stations and other cable outlets, and is projected to reach 80 million households.
"Balanced for Life" is placing advertisements in professional publications serving public school professionals, including School Board Journal, Principal Leadership, The School Administrator and School Foodservice & Nutrition. These ads will depict a vending machine in a number of school settings, under the tagline "We're putting a classroom in your lunchroom." They're slated to run from January through June, 2005.
With the key elements of the program in place and the formal rollout underway, Geerdes observed, "We're very excited about the progress we've made on the campaign and we want to thank all of the Endowing the Future contributors who have made it possible.
"This issue poses an enormous threat not only to our industry but, even more importantly, to our nation's youth," the NAMA president summed up.