March 6, 2017

Momentum Builds for Healthy Vending Options in Montgomery County

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the Montgomery County Council held a public hearing on proposed Bill 1-17 that would require all vending machines on county property to carry at least 50 percent of items that meet American Heart Association recommended nutrition standards for sugar, salt, fat and other measures.

The proposed legislation would make healthier packaged snack food and drinks more widely available in vending machines on County property. Bill 1-17 will add healthier options to vending machines, but still allow for less healthy choices as well.

If approved, healthier items would be offered along with chips, candy and regular soda. For the next two years, 50 percent of snacks in machines on county property would need to meet American Heart Association recommended nutrition standards for sugar, salt, fat and other measures. After that, the percentage of healthy food and drink offered would rise to 65 percent. Every drink machine would also offer bottled water.

Students from the Youth Activism Project and health advocacy organizations (American Heart Association, Moms Rising and Real Food for Kids Montgomery) joined Sugar Free Kids Maryland to testify in support of the legislation.

The bill’s lead sponsor is Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large). Councilmembers Roger Berliner (D-District 1), Marc Elrich (D-At Large), Tom Hucker (D-District 5), Nancy Navarro (D-District 4), Craig Rice (D-District 2) and Hans Riemer (D-District 15) are co-sponsors.

“As chair of the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, I am always on the lookout for ways to help our employees make healthier lifestyle choices.” said Councilmember Leventhal. “Bill 1-17 does not dictate what people can or cannot eat—it simply mandates that our vendors provide healthier options.”

Several local outlets covered the proceedings, including ABC 7 television and WTOP radio.

Between Fiscal Year 2006 and Fiscal Year 2017, County Government expenditures to provide health insurance to current and retired employees increased by 72 percent, from $83.3 million to $143.1 million.

Almost one in four children in Montgomery County is not able to maintain a healthy weight. This rate outpaces the national average. More than half of all adults in county adults are not keeping a healthy weight.

Gaithersburg High School junior Jacqueline Guzman, who has Type 1 diabetes testified in front of the Council, said she has to be careful about eating unhealthy food and believes students “should have the right to choose snacks that are healthy for us.” Guzman is part of Sugar Free Kids’ chapter of Youth Activism Project, which encourages young adults to become active for social change.

Healthy vending legislation was passed by the Howard County Council in 2015 and will be introduced to the Prince George’s County Council this year.

“We are excited about making the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone who lives, works and plays in Montgomery County,” said Sugar Free Kids Maryland Executive Director Shawn McIntosh. “Passing this legislation is an achievable step for the county to promote health, increase access to healthy choices and help reduce the costly effects of medical conditions like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. By increasing choices for packaged snack foods and beverages in vending, we are aiming to make the county a healthier place to live, work and play.”

A working session on this bill is scheduled for March 30, while a vote is expected for soon afterwards.

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