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Initiative aims to boost healthy vending options

Aug. 16, 2012, 9:11 AM

Plans are being rolled out to increase the healthy options available in vending machines across the Medical Center campus. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Move over candy bars, sugary sodas and greasy potato chips. Make way for more protein bars, carrot sticks, vitamin waters and nuts.

Over the next two years, Vanderbilt’s Health Plus is partnering with Vanderbilt’s retail director to bring more healthy food options to the Medical Center.

The plan is to increase healthy vending options to 35 percent by the end of fiscal year 2013 and to 50 percent by the end of fiscal year 2014, said Kathy Gregory, director of VUMC retail and patient transportation.

“We’re increasing the overall healthy vending options so that when an employee or visitor wants a snack or drink, there are more healthy choices,” Gregory said. “But we’re doing this gradually. Changing food options too drastically can be upsetting for some people.”

Marilyn Holmes, manager of Health Plus, said the move to add more healthy options is part of an overall initiative to create an environment that will support Vanderbilt faculty and staff in making healthy eating choices. This year the focus is on healthy catering and vending options as well as menu labeling.

“Since our faculty and staff spend a large portion of time at work, Vanderbilt plays an important role in supporting healthy eating,” Holmes said. “Additionally, we are a nationally recognized institution and role model.”

Gregory said she is working with Five Star Vending, the machine vendor, and Coca-Cola, which supplies the drink machines, to increase both healthy food and drink options. The soft drink machines will begin to have more vitamin water and zero-calorie drink options and fewer full-sugar drinks.

In addition, there are two refrigerated healthier option vending machines — one in Medical Center North’s second-floor snack bar and one in the Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

The HealthyVend machines contain air popped chips, veggie crisps and protein bars on the top shelves and in the lower refrigerated part, carrot and celery sticks and dip, apple slices, smoothies and healthy sandwiches.

“We can’t keep the veggies and dip and sandwiches stocked in the machines,” Gregory said. “The vendor is having to visit more often to keep them stocked.”

She said the machines are particularly popular after 11 p.m., when all retail vendors have closed for the day and staff and visitors need a meal-sized healthy snack.

Gregory said that other locations in the Medical Center are being scouted for HealthyVend machines, but space and power sources limit the availability of locations. These machines also need to be located in a high volume area since many of the items are perishable.

Gregory said that all food suppliers at Vanderbilt are working to increase healthy options offered to staff and visitors, including The Courtyard Café, Au Bon Pain and the restaurants located at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Caterers who cater events at Vanderbilt are also being asked to supply healthier options.

“We know that Vanderbilt needs to be at the forefront of this movement,” Gregory said.

Holmes said that she doesn’t foresee a time when Vanderbilt bans all less healthy options from its vending machines. “Having a choice is important,” she said. “And again, it’s about creating an environment and change in a population whereby individuals have access to and desire healthy food options. This is the key to sustaining success.”

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