BALTIMORE -- Health advocacy group Sugar Free Kids Maryland said the local chapter of the nation's largest healthcare union (1199SEIU) is joining the effort to pass the Maryland Healthy Vending Choices Act during the 2017 state legislative session. A different version of this legislation failed last spring. | READ MORE
1199SEIU represents more than 10,000 local healthcare workers and joins the coalition's leadership team that includes the Horizon Foundation, the Maryland State Medical Society, the Maryland Conference of the NAACP, the American Heart Association mid-Atlantic affiliate and the Maryland Association of Student Councils. The coalition consists of more than 200 health, faith, youth and community organizations.
If passed, 50% of snacks in vending machines on state property would have to meet nutrition standards for sugar, salt, trans fat and other measures established by the American Heart Association, and every drink machine would be required to offer bottled water.
The legislation would expand better-for-you offerings. It would also increase the visibility of those options in vending machines, require calorie labels on or around machines, and provide for technical assistance and monitoring of compliance. "Healthier" packaged snack foods and beverages would be displayed in a way that distinguishes them from other items and be placed in locations with the highest selling potential.
"By increasing choices for packaged snack foods and beverages in vending, we are aiming to make our state a healthier place to live, work and play," said Michaeline Fedder, government affairs director of the American Heart Association mid-Atlantic affiliate.
The bill builds upon measures already in place in Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George's County. Howard County passed healthy vending legislation in summer 2015.
Howard County soda sales reportedly dropped 20% over the course of a three-year policy change and education campaign that included passage of the healthy vending legislation. The University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity presented its research at the American Heart Association's 2016 Scientific Sessions.
For its part, the local beverage and vending industry stresses that more government regulation is not a long-term solution to any perceived public health crises related to diet and weight. "While we share similar goals with organizations aiming to reduce sugar consumption and obesity levels, consumers deserve real solutions, not new government regulations, bans and taxes," said Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association. "We can reduce obesity with industry and public health working together on solutions that will bring about true, lasting change.
"Beverage-makers are taking numerous actions to help consumers reduce their calories and sugar from beverages," Valentino continued. "We've been creating more low- and no-sugar options for consumers and smaller portion sizes. We have voluntarily placed clear calorie labels on the front of every bottle and can we sell. We are placing calorie awareness signs on vending machines, fountains and coolers throughout Maryland and the country to encourage people to check the calories before buying."