January 5, 2017

1199SEIU Joins Leadership Team of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, Adding Union Support for 2017 Healthy Vending Legislation

Watch WJZ TV’s story on the Maryland Healthy Vending Choices Act

BALTIMORE – Sugar Free Kids Maryland, a leading voice in Maryland’s fight against type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay, announced Thursday that 1199SEIU is joining efforts to pass the Maryland Healthy Vending Choices Act during the 2017 state legislative session. 1199SEIU – the local chapter of the nation’s largest healthcare union – is now one of six organizations leading the coalition, consisting of more than 200 diverse health, faith, youth and community organizations.

The proposed legislation would make healthier packaged snack food and drinks more widely available in vending machines on state property. If passed, 50 percent of snacks in state machines would meet nutrition standards for sugar, salt, trans fat and other measures established by the American Heart Association, and every drink machine would offer bottled water.

The state spends more than $700 million each year to fund health benefits for its 81,000 employees. Reducing chronic diseases through improvements to Maryland’s food environment would help improve employee health and reduce taxpayer costs.

“We are proud to have 1199SEIU join Sugar Free Kids Maryland in our work to make the healthy choice the easy choice for all Marylanders,” said Executive Director Shawn McIntosh. “The Maryland Healthy Vending Choices Act is an achievable step for the state to promote health, increase access to healthy choices and help reduce the costly effects of medical conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

1199SEIU represents more than 10,000 local healthcare workers and joins the coalition’s leadership team which includes the Horizon Foundation, the Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi), the Maryland Conference of the NAACP, the American Heart Association—Mid-Atlantic Affiliate and the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

“As a union of healthcare workers, we are committed to advocating for quality care and policies that improve health,” said Ricarra Jones, political organizer at 1199SEIU. “We are proud to join Sugar Free Kids Maryland and support legislation that will move healthy choices forward in our state.”

The bill comes amid research showing that the state’s high rate of chronic conditions is leading to high costs. One-third of Marylanders has high blood pressure, and one in 10 Marylanders has diabetes, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent study conducted by the Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County found that treating diabetes comes at a significant expense. Researchers found that Maryland Medicaid’s HealthChoice program spent more than a quarter of all expenditures – $471 million – on diabetes-related care in 2014.

“Those numbers are staggering and in most cases, can be prevented,” said Dr. Richard Bruno, Board of Trustees member at MedChi. “One simple way to avoid type 2 diabetes is to lower sugar consumption and encourage healthy eating. Increasing healthy vending choices helps make that possible and more convenient.”

The legislation not only would expand healthy offerings but also increase the visibility of those options in vending machines, require calorie labels on or around the machines provide for technical assistance and monitoring of compliance. Healthier packaged snack foods and beverages would be displayed in a way that distinguishes them from other items and be placed in locations with the highest selling potential.

“By increasing choices for packaged snack foods and beverages in vending, we are aiming to make our state a healthier place to live, work and play,” said Michaeline Fedder, government affairs director of the American Heart Association Mid-Atlantic Affiliate.

The bill builds upon measures already in place in Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. Howard County passed healthy vending legislation in the summer of 2015.

“Across the state, local leaders are increasingly recognizing that healthy drinks and snacks play a key role in creating a culture of good health,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. “In Howard County, we are proud to have a community that shares our dedication to health and wellness—and we are making an impact.”

Howard County soda sales dropped 20 percent over the course of a three-year policy change and education campaign that included passage of the healthy vending legislation. The University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity presented its research at the American Heart Association’s 2016 Scientific Sessions.

“By expanding the availability of healthy snacks and drinks, the state would expand the opportunity for Marylanders to make healthy lifestyle choices,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference. “This legislation can change the landscape and help the reduce risk of developing harmful chronic conditions that disproportionately affect communities of color.”

Advocates are using the hashtag #HealthyVendingMD to promote the legislation.


About Sugar Free Kids Maryland:

Sugar Free Kids Maryland is a diverse coalition working to protect Maryland children from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay so they can live long, healthy lives. Sugar Free Kids is led by six partner organizations, including the Horizon Foundation, the Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi), the Maryland Conference of the NAACP, the American Heart Association Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, Maryland Association of Student Councils and 1199SEIU. For more on Sugar Free Kids Maryland, visit www.sugarfreekidsmd.org.