Washington was one of the first states to adopt vending machine guidelines, but the trailblazing program is already showing its age. To catch up with states and municipalities which have drafted similar plans since Fit Pick debuted in 2007, the state is now developing a new set of guidelines to keep fattening foods out of its agencies' vending machines.
Although an exact timetable for the initiative hasn't yet been determined, Colleen Arceneaux, Community Transformation Healthy Eating Coordinator at the Washington State Department of Health, says, "it's going to be modeled after Seattle-King County guidelines."
Employers and school districts in Clark County in 2006 teamed with the National Automated Merchants Association to develop Fit Pick, a sticker system indicating which snacks meet a set of nutritional criteria. The program has since been expanded statewide, and implemented in jurisdictions including Mississippi; Shelby County, Tenn. and Shasta Counry, Calif.
"It definitely works," says Scott Pritchard, who advocates for Fit Pick as program director for Washington Wellness, an initiative to improve the health of current and retired state employees and their families. "For myself, I try to bring my own stuff (for lunch), but when I go to the vending machine, they have my favorite oatmeal granola bar. Before, that wouldn't have been in there."
According to Pritchard, at least 35 percent of the snacks stocked in a Fit Pick machine must comply with sticker standards. To earn a Fit Pick sticker, an item must meet the 35-10-35 test, meaning no more than 35 percent of its calories come from fat, no more than 10 percent of its calories come from saturated fat and no more than 35 percent of the product's weight is sugar.
Although a Fit Pick handbook for vendors warns that the stickers are considered labeling claims by the Food and Drug Administration, snacks don't always end up in the right spots. At South Seattle Community College, approval stickers are currently affixed to the slots holding Chili Cheese Fritos and Duplex Sandwich Cream Cookies. Both snacks are rated "D-plus" by Calorie Count, an online nutritional information database. The Fritos derive more than half their calories from fat, and the cookies are too sugary to merit a sticker.
Pritchard attributing the mislabeling to harried delivery drivers who don't have a vested interest in keeping their customers slim.
"I know how things like that happen," he says. "The drivers make money by how much is sold, so the drivers' major interest is putting things in to sell."
It's now up to a site manager to monitor the accuracy of sticker-snack matches, but that chore could become obsolete under new state guidelines. King County urges departments to do away entirely with items classified as "high in sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains," such as cookies and chips.
The King County guidelines, adopted in 2011, are much more stringent than those incorporated into the industry-endorsed Fit Pick program: To qualify as "healthiest" or "healthier," a snack must exclude trans fat; added sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup, and more than 360 milligrams of salt. A document outlining the program envisions a vending machine stocked with unsalted nuts, dehydrated apples, whole-grain pretzels, low-sodium beef jerky and low-fat popcorn.
Arceneaux anticipates the voluntary guidelines will be rolled out later this year.