The Chicago Park District has recently made the decision to exchange unhealthy foods in their vending machines with healthier alternatives as part of their “100% Healthier Snack Vending Initiative”. This program was put in place as an obesity reduction strategy. In America the obesity rate is currently at a high 35.7% for adults and 17% for adolescents (2-19 years old). With parks in Chicago being the second largest public feeder of children just behind schools, this is an ideal place to start fighting the obesity epidemic that is consuming Americans today.
The “100% Healthier Snack Vending Initiative” began in August of 2010. At that time 98 vending machines were placed in indoor field houses throughout the Chicago Park District System. The picture above shows one of the newly stocked vending machines that sits in Chicago Park District’s Humboldt Park Field House located on the West Side of Chicago. As you can see, the classic candy bars and Cheetos you normally see in vending machines are absent and in their places sit snacks like granola bars. What you cannot see from this picture due to lack of clarity is that each snack in the vending machine may not exceed the cost of $1. This puts all snack options on the same level so that people do not have to compromise and buy the less nutritious food because it is cheaper. Additionally, each one of the vending machines has strict nutritional guidelines of what kinds of foods can be sold.
You might expect consumers to steer away from the less healthy food given our current obesity situation in America, but it is actually the opposite. In fact, a study conducted by students at Northwestern University shows that the vast majority of patrons approved of the healthier snack vending machine items. 88% of people surveyed reported enjoying the healthier vending items. Additionally, sales had improved by $287.00 within the first year of implementing these machines. I think it is refreshing to see positive nutritional initiatives taking place beyond school cafeterias where we traditionally see them. With Chicago being one of the first cities to adopt this initiative I would hope that other's follow the same path.
Although this program sounds completely beneficial at face value, it is important to acknowledge the fact that Chicago's Park District is controlling and limiting the choices that the consumer has. This policy clashes with American culture because American's value their freedom above all. Having the park district and government regulate what citizens can and cannot eat may frustrate many. American's take pride in their ability to have choices and this kind of control may turn away consumers. As a result, the consumers will lose out on the opportunity to purchase low-cost nutritious food and instead may take their $1 and spend it on fast food or another unhealthy, yet cost effective alternative. This could potentially lead to a further increased amount of obesity and completely reverse the effect the Chicago Park District wants to have on the people of Chicago.
Do you think that this policy will help combat obesity or will it instead drive people away from spending their money in these machines?