Procurement. It’s a term that for many is hard to define at a glance. But when it comes to public health, and especially advancing healthy eating among public employees and those who frequent state and local facilities, it has incredible importance as demonstrated by study after study.
In Maryland, a coalition is pushing for adoption of the Maryland Healthy Vending Act by that state’s legislature. The legislation would require that 75 percent of the food and drinks offered in vending machines on state property meet healthy food and drink standards, as well as trans-fat and sodium standards. Equally important, from a marketing perspective, the healthy foods and drinks would be given prominent placement and information on calorie content would be placed in or around the vending machines.
“When it comes to increasing healthy eating, experts across the nation point to healthy vending on public property as one of the key places to start by making sure people have the ability to make a healthy choice,” says Robi Rawl, the executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, a statewide coalition of more than 200 organizations that is the catalyst behind the measure.
Being that it is highly unusual for a new piece of legislation to make it through the Maryland Legislature in the first year it is introduced, the Maryland Senate Finance Committee voted the measure down. But thanks to the attention Sugar Free Kids Maryland brought to the issue, healthy vending machine offerings and their link to public health are resonating with both the public and policymakers.
In the long run, that awareness will serve Maryland health advocates well. The existence of a strong and diverse statewide coalition, reams of positive stories, and a successful framing of the issue as being about choice has Rawl and others feeling very optimistic as to the legislation’s chances in future sessions of the Legislature.
“We framed this issue as simply a matter of choice … about expanding food and drink options,” says Rawl. “That brought a lot of attention to the issue and now the legislation has widespread support … we made a lot of headway.”
Eventual passage of the legislation is important because making healthier food and drinks more widely available in vending machines could help reduce rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases in Maryland, especially among those who work on or frequent state property. Its passage will also send an important signal to state residents and the owners and operators of other vending machines that healthy vending offerings are an important public health issue that deserves everyone’s participation.
As Rawl succinctly states, “This sends the message that government prioritizes health.”