Sunday, January 8, 2012

Childhood Obesity: 3 Arguments for Healthy Vending Machines

In the last 30 years, childhood obesity has tripled in the United States, and if no action is taken today's children will be the first generation in recorded history to be less healthy than their parents. Hundreds of lifestyle and culture changes have combined to effect this change, and hundreds of action steps will need to be taken to combat it. One important step should happen in schools. Many children eat two meals a day at school, and many more eat at least one. They deserve the best, and schools are just starting to understand that.

While some districts are completely overhauling their school lunch program - Boulder, Colorado among them - others don't have the resources to make such big changes so fast. Installing healthy vending machines can solve both problems at once: a substantial and immediate change that generates revenue for bigger changes down the road. What's more, healthy vending machines in schools can help students build life-long habits and learn about healthy lifestyles.

Choosing the Right Snacks

Along with hot lunches, most schools offer a number of other snack options to students via vending machines and snack bars. This is to help the school make money, but should such enterprises be done at the cost of student health? Nachos, candy bars, and cookies are hardly fair for lunch, but kids don't know any better; when given the option, they go for what tastes good. Even adults are guilty of that, so no one would expect more self-denial from kids. However, recent brain research suggests that even into the teen years the frontal lobe - the part of the brain that regulates self-control and judgment - is being re-structured and developed. That means it is even harder for young people to resist the urge to have a candy bar than it is for an average adult. Therefore, it is even more critical that responsible grown-ups make important choices for students that will help them eat right now and learn to choose to do so in the future.

A healthy vending machine in the school building is one way to start that process. Filled completely with nutritious options, kids can learn that "healthy" doesn't mean "gross" and can find themselves coming to enjoy the taste and effects of fueling their bodies with something substantial. That is a lesson that will pay dividends for the rest of their lives.

Multi-Media Health Education

Today's youth are a technology generation, and no doubt about it. Texting, gaming, social networking, and YouTubing all comprise the language kids speak, however foreign that language is to parents. To educate them effectively, anyone with a message for students needs to communicate in a way they understand. No one would guess a vending machine could do that.

Some innovative healthy vending machines include LCD screens that come with educational information both on the snacks in the machine and on healthy tips in general. With state-of-the-art technology and bold graphics, these machines market themselves to young people, but instead of deceiving consumers into buying something they don't need, they encourage them to make the best possible choice when it comes to snacking at school.

Generating Profit for Extra-Curricular Activities

The LCD screens also serve as valuable advertisement space that can be sold to augment even more the profit of owning a vending machine. The reason why many schools have soda machines and snack machines in spite of the obvious health concerns is they are so lucrative that administrators feel it is worth the risk of childhood obesity in order to avoid cutting back already tight budgets on opportunities kids need. How much better to retain the profit and encourage student health? In fact, those extra curricular activities that need the funds are often exactly the same ones that get kids exercising and socializing - the ones that teach them how to live healthy lives outside of school as well as in it. Who knew a vending machine could be so powerful?

However valuable such an investment will be, it still might be a hard sell at the beginning. Working with a trusted vending franchise that specializes in health-food machines is important to avoid mistakes that lead to unsuccessful experiences. For instance, if a Snickers bar is sold next to a granola bar, it's rare that a teenager will be able to resist the former. In fact, having unhealthy snacks available at all, even in another machine, will lead to smaller profit margins than if only nutritious options are presented. That's just common sense, remembering the under-developed frontal lobe of adolescents and children. On the other hand, if someone's hungry for a little something and they look into a window that offers pita chips next to vitamin water next to whole grain honey graham sticks, something is bound to look tasty. If a district is interested in going healthy, it's going to be a commitment. The process of throwing out old junk food habits and creating new one may take a while, but it's worth it.

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