New: Calorie Labels on Snack Vending Machines

Over the weekend Congress (barely) passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act, or H.R. 3962. And while much media attention went to the abortion clauses that were put in / taken out, there were also several food and nutrition related provisions added to the new legislation.


1. Any operator of 20 or more vending machines will now be required to label the calorie count for each of the items on sale:

the vending machine operator shall provide a sign in close proximity to each article of food or the selection button that includes a clear and conspicuous statement disclosing the number of calories contained in the article

This is great, because it will help people snack a bit more mindfully. Especially important is the labeling of soft drinks and juices. Consumers pick up a vitamin water and are sometimes surprised when they’re told it contains 8 teaspoons of sugar and 130 calories!

2. Restaurant chains with national presence of 20 or more locales will now have to post calorie information as well. The information has to appear on menus as well as on the menu board and drive in menu board where applicable.

There have been calorie labeling efforts in several cities and states across the country in the past 2 years, but now they’ll all come under a single roof.

While calories are a great start, they certainly don’t tell the whole story of a product, so the bill further states that upon request, customers shall also be informed about level of nutrients such as  fat, sodium, and cholesterol.

That’s nice in theory, but you can just imagine a scene where Fred is standing in line at a busy BK, trying to decide whether to go for a cheeseburger or whopper, and asking the Jack the cashier for the saturated fat content of each. While Jack is scratching his head and calling the shift manager who vaguely remembers some brochure buried in the stock room, the line behind Fred gets longer and more restless….

The National Restaurant Association supports the new menu requirement, and with good reason. Better have one single rule, than have each state or municipality come up with its own requirements, as California did.

We would have liked to see more sweeping legislation connected to food and nutrition in this bill. After all, much of our health problems are directly related to poor eating habits. But this will have to wait for another time.

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  • Dr. Susan Rubin

    Years ago, cigarette companies listed the milligrams of tar and nicotine. Addicted folks would somehow feel better when they smoked a light cigarette.
    The crap sold in these vending machines is no different. The food industry has played the calorie game and won.

  • Chip Leblanc

    Posting caloric content is a good start on the road to good nutrition. However, it is only a start. The only answer to good nutrition and therefore, good health is a combination and balance of nutritious food, physical activity, and preventative health care.

  • staff

    @Susan – can you imagine a day when vending machines will sell fresh fruit and vegetables? perhaps with recyclable plastic cups of low-fat dipping sauces?

    @Chip – right on. I’d like to see a lot more transparency in the nutrition information provided by manufacturers and retailers.

  • Linda

    Honestly, will this REALLY make any difference? I am well aware when I am eating junk out of a machine. I think most people are. We don’t need “better” labeling. We need better choices. I would LOVE fruits or veggies as an option.

  • Linda

    The other thing to think about with regard to restaurant calorie counts is with regard to conformity. What’s to keep the cook from adding twice the oil called for, or increasing the portion size so the plate looks better? You really don’t have a good way of knowing what you are eating when you don’t have total control over the food. Just try and make good, healthy choices when eating out and hope for the besst!

  • Carol

    That day is (and has been) here, although not everywhere. In the ’80s Rutgers University, Cook College (Environmental and Agriculture school) had apple & orange vending machines on campus.

    More recently, Del Monte has been testing for a couple years and recently rolled out fresh and fresh-cut fruit and vegetable items for vending machines:–vegetables/Article.aspx?articleid=839984&authorid=654&feedid=215

    There are many other examples of healthier vending machine foods, including at schools where students have been the driving force. Often the problem is long term contracts with suppliers/distributors (Coke, Pepsi, et al.) that must be broken in order to change the offerings. I’ve been tracking this topic for almost a year, and there is plenty of demand and change happening.