School Vending Machines Getting Color-coded for Safety

"Vending machines are getting their own color-coded safety guide as part of a campaign started ... by the vending industry to fight childhood obesity," reported the Washington Times.

A second rationale is to "fend off efforts to remove the machines from schools."(Marguerite Higgins, Vending snacks rated for nutrition, The Washington Times, Jan. 14, 2005).

At a time many are calling for greater regulation of dietary supplements to enhance consumer safety, it appears that vending machines share the blame for obesity, defined as a disease state and one of the leading ultimate causes of death in our culture.

St. John's Wort is ineffective to cure severe depression, the argument goes, but "chips, trail mix, candy bars, cookies and crackers in vending machines" are part of the American Way.

Dietary supplements should be regulated like drugs, according to some, but crispy crunchy fatties can be consumed with abandon.

The new scheme--which some are calling a political ploy--grants some recognition the ever-blurred lines between "food" and "medicine." Dietary supplements occupy that strange borderland; so, apparently, do candy bars and Cokes.

According to the article:

" Each color scores the product on its nutritional worth....About 16.3 percent of the nation's 7 million vending machines are found in school campuses and colleges....numerous school boards nationwide that have cut back on or banned school vending machines.

"Some 15 percent of American children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The campaign comes amid a growing movement by food companies to offer healthier alternatives to their fatty products. Oreo cookie maker Kraft Foods Inc. said this week that the company will focus its children's advertising on healthier fare and highlight nutritional information on its packaging.

"The snacks were scored on a point basis. The system gives a point to foods rich in calcium, protein, fiber, iron and vitamins A and E while taking away points from those high in sugars, fats and calories. A poster explaining the ratings will be placed on the outside of each machine.

"At the vending-machine-association press conference yesterday, green stickers were placed on items such as pretzels, Nutri-Grain cereal bars and Go-Gurt yogurt, advising consumers to frequently choose those items. Other products like Wheat Thins, Starburst Fruit Chews and SnackWell's cookies were labeled yellow, suggesting to choose occasionally. Austin crackers, Snickers, chocolate chip cookies and Doritos chips were labeled red, which advises to eat those products rarely."

The drive is somewhat reminiscent of the nutraceuticals concept, which reconceptualizes foods-containing-dietary supplements as containing nutritional, "natural" pharmaceuticals. There is no clinical data of efficacy, however, for products such as pretzels with gingko.

Consider the next night out at the movies - why not lift the mood and fend off a cold while popping your favorite, green-labeled snack? Popcorn with St. John's Wort and echinacea, anyone?