Practicing what they preach: hospitals stock healthier vending options - June 1, 2014

Courtesy of The Times

Marci Crozier noticed something out of place at workplace meetings: doughnuts.

Crozier, Francisan Omni Health & Fitness regional director of marketing and sales, suggested to other company leaders that if they really wanted to promote wellness among employees, the breakfast pastries had to go.

In that same vein, vending machines at the Franciscan Alliance hospitals are getting a makeover, offering more healthy options and fitted with an interactive screen that displays the nutritional value of food and drinks before people buy them.

“You can make informed decisions,” said Cathy Estes, regional director of nutrition services for Franciscan Alliance.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, vending machine operators who own 20 or more vending machines must disclose calorie content, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Franciscan just inked a contract with vending company Ace Coffee Bar Inc., which had started posting nutrition information for its vending products. The timing of Franciscan’s desire to revamp vending coincided with the health care law requirements.

“It was win-win for us,” Estes said.

The machines will continue to offer a variety of snacks and beverages, but the healthy items will outnumber the not-so-healthy.

“The consumer has to make the choice,” Estes said.

Methodist Hospitals offers healthy options in all of its vending machines, said Ray Gullatt, director of food and nutritional services for Methodist.

“Healthy options are marked with a heart in all snack machines,” he said.

Offerings include baked chips, pretzels, milk, fruit cups, oat and honey bars, oatmeal, fresh fruit, water and juice, he said.

Community Healthcare System offers healthy options through its 43 vending machines, said Daniel Jaehn, lead system director of hospitality and nutrition services for Community Healthcare System.

“Fresh products such as vegetable crudites, yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit cups, hummus cups, antioxidant trail mixes, low-fat smoothies and low-calorie artisan sandwiches on wheat are offered in our cold food machines,” he said. “The snack machines provide an 80 percent healthy and a 20 percent not-as-healthy blend of products, which is part of our ‘Good For You and Nutritious Too’ vending strategy.”

Community worked with its dietitians to format a nutritious plan for the machines consistent with dietary guidelines, he said.

“We are seeing a conscientious shift to healthier products in our customer purchasing decision habits,” Jaehn said.

Jaehn said Community views itself as a progressive health care system, and it is incumbent upon them to reflect the spirit by providing healthier options and communicating that to vending consumers.

“All of our snack machines are equipped with a nutrition facts video board technology so that customers can preview the nutrition content prior to purchasing,” he said. “Informed customers can then make better healthier choices.”

In the future, Community may convert more of its vending machines to cashless operations that would build in rewards for making healthy choices, Jaehn said.