Illustrated by Gabriela Alford.
At face value, vending machines appear to be a fairly straightforward technology. You know exactly what you're getting and how much you're expected to pay. Unless, of course, your bag of Doritos happens to get caught in the coil, destined to dangle until a more clever consumer comes by and knocks them down. But, a pending healthcare law may require the treat boxes to be even more transparent, requiring all calorie information for its goodies posted on the front of the machine.
The law, if it goes into effect, will affect about five million machines throughout the country. The FDA says posting the caloric info will allow consumers to make healthier choices. Making this change will come at an estimated cost of an initial $25.8 million to the vending companies, and an additional $24 million per year after that. But, according to the FDA, if just .02% of obese adults consumed 100 fewer calories per week, the health care system would see the same amount in savings. The calorie display on vending machines, arguably, can help make that a reality. Of course, a reality that would come at the collective cost to approximately 10,800 companies.
As Fox News points out, the profit margin of vending machine companies is very low. So, investing millions as part of a new law would mean these companies will see no return on their investment. To offset the costs, vending companies are asking for major flexibility, like suggesting a two-year rollout of the new regulations and using electronic displays, rather than stickers that would need constant updating.
So, would seeing the calories in a product before purchasing make a difference? A 2011 study has the FDA thinking it would. In this study (conducted in New York), only one in six customers looked at the nutrition information. But, those who did, chose about 100 fewer calories. It's possible that it's simply the more health-conscious individuals that study nutritional info — those who are likely to choose lower cal options anyway. However, another study (this one in Philadelphia) found zero difference in calories purchased after the city adopted a nutritional labeling law.