2017 | News

County Council Approves Healthy Vending Machines Bill

New regulations will limit what types of snacks and drinks are sold in machines at county office buildings

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County Council member George Leventhal (center) at a press event announcing the vending machine bill in February

Screenshot via County Cable Montgomery

County employees and visitors should expect this summer to find fewer sugar-laden sodas and snacks in vending machines in county buildings.

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation to limit the number of sugary drinks and high-fat snacks that can be sold from the machines.

The legislation impacts about 168 vending machines on county property. It requires companies who have vending machine contracts with the county to stock only snack food items that have no more than 200 calories per package, less than 0.5 grams of trans fat and no more than 200 milligrams of sodium, as well as beverages that have less than 250 calories or measure no more than 20 fluid ounces.

In addition, regulations established by the legislation say that starting July 1, vending machine operators with new or renewed contracts are required to make sure that at least 50 percent of food and beverage items in their machines meet healthy vending standards set by the American Heart Association such as containing 35 percent or less calories from fat and no more than 35 percent of calories from sugar. After July 2018, the law requires 65 percent of the food and beverage items to meet the healthy vending standards.

Council member George Leventhal sponsored the bill, which was passed with few comments from council members.

“We felt this was truly important,” council member Nancy Navarro said.

The bill was widely supported by health organizations such as the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association and Sugar Free Kids Maryland. The organizations noted that increasing access to healthy food is the first step to changing behavior that otherwise can lead to obesity and other medical conditions.

“Government agencies can be a model for healthy eating, reinforce other agency-sponsored, obesity-prevention efforts, and show that healthy food tastes good and can generate revenue,” wrote the American Cancer Society in a letter to council President Roger Berliner.

The Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce pushed back against the bill in a letter to the council, saying it would affect one of the group’s members that maintains vending machines under a county contract and depends on snack and drink sales to turn a profit and recoup costs.

“A pair of vending machines (one for snacks and one for beverages) can easily cost a company around $12,000,” the letter signed by Silver Spring Chamber President Jane Redicker notes. “The assumption that people buy more healthy items if they are offered, is not based on the reality of consumer habits.”