FORT JACKSON, SC -- First lady Michelle Obama visited Fort Jackson, the Army's largest training post, to see if the military's efforts to overhaul soldiers' diets and exercise programs could serve as a model for making people across the U.S. more focused on fitness and nutrition. During her tour on Jan. 27, she reportedly saw vending machines stocked with better-for-you items that meet the National Automatic Merchandising Association's Fit Pick criteria.
The vending association's wellness program includes two choices of standards: Fit Pick, which includes products that are less than 35% fat, less than 10% saturated fat and less than 35% total weight in sugar; and the more stringent Alliance for a Healthier Generation standard, which begins with the 35-10-35 guidelines, with added caps on sodium, trans fat and calories. Vending machine stickers identify qualifying products and clings explain the nutrition standards.
Beyond major changes to make mess hall menus healthier, vending machines factor heavily into the military's wellness push. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) reportedly have Fit Pick standards in place in some 7,000 venders. Currently, 15% of selections in the majority of them meet Fit Pick standards.
But the movement is ramping up. As of November, Fit Pick choices make up half of the snack items in machines serving the soldiers in the Army's Advanced Individual Training program. And officials are pushing to more than triple Fit Pick selections in Initial Military Training command venders to at least 50% to help build healthy habits.
The Army Times cited a recent test at Fort Jackson that increased Fit Pick selections to 50%, 75% and 100% of vending options. Healthy purchases reportedly increased from 25% to 42% when half the items were Fit Pick. But the AAFES said it began to see a "substantial" decline in all sales when Fit Pick items filled more than half the slots. South Carolina's Fort Jackson, which trains more than 60,000 soldiers annually, and more than half the Army's female soldiers, is one of the service's five major posts for basic and advanced training.
Fit Pick was launched in 2008 as part of NAMA's Balanced for Life program, a campaign to educate consumers about the elements of a balanced diet and the importance of physical activity. In 2010, according to NAMA, 1,215 organizations registered for Fit Pick. They include 162 government agencies, 99 schools and school systems, 247 worksites and 573 vending companies.
Most recently, Tennessee mandated that 25% of the products in vending machines located on state property meet Fit Pick guidelines. The program is also becoming increasingly popular around the world; last year, it was adopted in locations in Puerto Rico, Korea and Japan.