CHICAGO - The National Automatic Merchandising Association's Board of Directors has adopted a formal policy on the issue of food and health. The action was taken because the board believes that this issue is likely to have a substantial effect on the industry in the years ahead. The policy statement is:
"NAMA endorses the mission of the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition (ACFN) to advocate comprehensive, long-term strategies and constructive public policies for improving the health of all Americans, particularly youth, by promoting solutions focused on the critical balance between fitness and nutrition.
"The Board supports the ACFN's emphasis on 'a healthy balance for life.' Prohibitions or further restrictions of certain food or beverage products in schools, or elsewhere, or higher taxes on particular products are not consistent with this mission. The mission would be better served if public officials focused more resources and attention on better nutrition education, the need for a healthy, balanced diet and more physical activity.
"NAMA strongly encourages its operator members and food supplier members, in cooperation with school principals and others, to offer a wide, balanced variety of food and beverages. The Board of Directors applauds the actions of many of NAMA's supplier members in offering a wider selection of beverages, reduced calorie and reduced fat foods.
"The 2003 NAMA Board of Directors affirms the policy of the NAMA Board of Directors published in 1973, that the method by which food is delivered to the student or other customer is in no way related to what is served. Hence, NAMA strongly opposes bans or restrictions on products limited to vending machine sales of such products."
NAMA board chairman John V. Arnold, Arnold Vending Co. (Tiffin, OH) said, "Rising obesity rates have translated into a tremendous challenge for every member of our industry. The statement issued by the Board will help members better understand both the underlying causes and suggested solutions for this very complex situation."
The policy statement by the NAMA Board of Directors is the latest measure in an ongoing series of initiatives taken by the association to help its members deal with the threat of misconceived actions taken against vending machines. In 2001, NAMA issued a Legislative Bulletin apprising members of the resurgence of this threat, and reviewing the federal government's regulation governing the sale of "competitive food" through vending machines.
Shortly thereafter, NAMA joined a coalition organized by the Grocery Manufacturers of America to defend the food industry and to broaden the issue to include nutrition education and physical activity. This coalition is now known as the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition. NAMA remains an active participant in the coalition.
Last summer, NAMA distributed an informative question-and-answer sheet to its members, for their use in dealing with inquiries from the media about vending in relation to food and nutrition. At the same time, NAMA publicly endorsed President Bush's "Healthy U.S." initiative, which urges Americans to eat a balanced diet and to be physically active every day.
At last fall's NAMA National Expo in Atlanta, Dr. Janet Collins of the Centers for Disease Control summarized the studies of obesity that have prompted the present public concern. Also at the 2002 National Expo, Dorothy Herbert of Kids First explored "Healthy Vending in Schools." Kids First is a Rhode Island-based organization that works with government, industry and schools to identify nutritionally sound products that youngsters enjoy.
Late last year, NAMA completed an industry survey designed to determine the average per capital sales of vended products in schools. The results showed the average student purchasing less than one candy bar and less than one snack item per week from a a vending machine. (The National Soft Drink Association similarly found an average per capita sale of carbonated cold drinks in schools of 16.4 fl.oz. per student per week.)
In January of this year, NAMA organized a task force made up of food company representatives, member operators and staff to improve focus and coordination of efforts to address the issue. In a conference call the following month, the Task Force agreed that it is unhelpful to categorize foods as "good" or "bad"; rather, the industry should be encouraged to offer a balanced variety of food items.
The Task Force has recommended that the NAMA staff prepare a booklet as an information resource for operators to use in dealing with school officials, parent-teacher associations and similar groups.
Most recently NAMA contracted with nutritionist Ruth Lahmayer, who has worked with vending companies, to advise the staff on nutrition and health issues. Speaking at the Spring Expo in Las Vegas, Lahmayer emphasized the need for a sensible diet and daily physical exercise. She will serve on the Task Force, and becomes a NAMA Knowledge Source consultant for the industry.
Arnold emphasized that the association is not resting on its laurels. "We will continue to work with our members to address this very serious subject, and encourage our members to call us with any concerns or questions they may have," he said.