Healthy Living in the North

To dream the impossible dream: Can vending machine snacks be healthy?

vending, healthy eating

The familiar glow of a vending machine

I have vivid memories of experiencing the “magic” of vending machines as a child. Our school had a gigantic apple-shaped monolith in the cafeteria with a shiny glass window representing a core but offering a clear glimpse of the bounty of shiny gems within. After inserting a dime in the coin slot you would witness a stirring. Then, from a dispenser at its base, you would be presented with a fresh, crisp Okanagan apple. Even though I grew up on a farm with apples aplenty, there was something special about getting it from a machine!

Vending machines date back to 215 BC. The first vending machine didn’t dispense candy or pop. Ancient Egyptians developed a device to dispense holy water at places of worship after depositing a coin.

From humble beginnings, the vending machine business has grown. Regardless of its contents, vending machines are an iconic part of our economy and culture and represent the progress of the Industrial Age.

Fast forward to today. As the national obesity pandemic grows, vending machine have come under fire, targeted as bastions of empty calories, sugar and fat in a sea of hungry consumers. Making the switch to healthier options in vending machines seems a natural solution but, will it make a difference? Nutrition experts are split. Some argue snacking is contributing to the nation’s high rate of obesity while others feel the impact will be limited as people don’t get a lot of their calories from vending machine and superficial changes are unlikely to put a dent in the problem.

Even though I grew up on a farm with apples aplenty, there was something special about getting it from a machine!

And here’s a rub … Just because something meets guidelines for fat, calories, sugar and salt, is it categorically “healthy”? Processed food is still processed food. By the industry’s own admission, even when machines are stocked with healthier options chocolate bars and chips remain ever popular choices.

Northern Health is committed to ensuring that vending machines in our facilities meet provincial vending guidelines. Some of our facilities are already there, and NH is working towards making sure all machines are in compliance.

So, what do you think about vending machines today?

  • Do you think that vending machines are needed in today’s society and culture?
  • Do you think that stocking them with healthy options would make a difference?

What is your experience with making food choices at a vending machine? Share your story with us.

Sherry Ogasawara

About Sherry Ogasawara

Sherry is a population health dietitian for Northern Health since 1989. In her current role, she is responsible for internal food policy work across the region. Sherry is a certified personal trainer and group fitness Instructor. She is a member of the Canadian Bender Method Master Training Team, is a national curriculum author and works to connect fitness, food, fun and healthy living daily! Sherry lives in Prince George with her husband, Mark, and her three children – twins, Keilani and Noa and older brother Tosh.