A sign posted on the vending machine in Missoula County's administrative office shows a soda bottle plastered with words like tooth decay, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
It also shows a water bottle promising hydration, natural, refreshing and, most importantly, zero calories. Combined, the message asks county employees to “rethink your drink.”
Calling obesity an American epidemic, Missoula County has updated its regulations dictating what’s sold in vending machines located in county buildings.
Gone are the days of Snickers bars, Oreo cookies and extra-cheesy Cheetos. Now it’s sliced fruit, peanuts, granola bars and raisins.
“It impacts the types of foods that go into the vending machines around the county,” said Kate Devino, a nutrition services manager with the Missoula City-County Health Department. “There’s no change in terms of the scope of the policy, it’s just the different nutrition standards in the foods.”
The county originally adopted its ordinance, Nutrition Standards for Healthy Food and Beverages in the Workplace, in 2013. The regulation limited the calories, fat, sugar and sodium sold in vending products, as well as the size of the products.
With the revised policy, 90 percent of the snacks offered in vending machines must now meet certain criteria. Each package can contain no more than 200 calories, no trans fats, and no more than 35 percent of the calories coming from added sugar.
The original policy also stated that snacks have no more than 7 grams of total fat and 2 grams of saturated fat. The revision brings the policy into line with U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
“We’re now looking at percentages, and that’s what the USDA is using,” said Devino. “We’re changing that to read no more than 35 percent fat and 10 percent saturated fat.”
The policy also reduced the amount of permissible sodium from 250 milligrams to 230. While the previous policy stated that no more than 10 percent of calories can come from carbohydrates, it has since been loosened.
“The nutrition recommendations are that 45 to 65 percent of our calories daily come from carbohydrates,” said Devino. “It’s really hard unless you’re looking at nuts to find a snack that doesn’t have more than 10 percent calories from carbohydrates.”
The policy also sets guidelines when food and beverages are offered at county functions. Entrees sold in vending machines also are covered by the policy, and signs posted on the machines serve as a reminder to hungry patrons.
“Missoula County considers it a priority to offer health-food options to staff and the public,” it reads. “Obesity has become an epidemic in the U.S., and so has the risk of related disease like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. These diseases are bad for individuals, and bad for business.”
Commissioners said the county has a responsibility to model healthy nutritional habits for the community, and to promote employee well-being by providing access to healthy foods.
Devino echoed that stance and said the health department has already changed out its vending machines, as have many county buildings.
“This is a way for us to encourage that we have healthy employees at the county, and that our vending machines at the county offer healthy food for the public coming in,” she said. “There’s an option that’s a chocolate chip cookie, but it fits within these guidelines."
“It’s whole wheat,” she said.