On Wednesday, February 13, the PLUS Committee reviewed an ordinance I have introduced that will increase the amount of healthy options in vending machines operated on City property. The majority of these machines only serve city employees. The Committee will vote on the ordinance at our February 27 meeting, with Full Council action scheduled for March 4.

Council Bill 117710 requires all vending machines operating on City Property to include “Healthier” and “Healthiest” food and beverage selections as defined by Public Health Seattle & King County “King County Healthy Vending Guidelines.” These standards are based upon calories, fat, sugar and sodium content.

Seattle’s Department of Parks and Recreation has already implemented a requirement for “Healthier” and “Healthiest” choices in all vending machines in City park facilities, a practice that was adopted into law for the Parks Department in 2010.

Vending machines with healthier snacks create more readily available healthy choices, and give people options. The experience with the Parks Department machines has shown that people like having these choices:  although there was an initial decline in sales, they quickly rebounded as people got used to the array of healthy choices that are now available.

Obesity and poor nutrition are serious problems in King County, and approximately half the adult population in Seattle is overweight or obese. Overweight adults are at greater risk for numerous serious health outcomes that place a large burden on the health care system and increase health care costs, including type two diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain cancers, asthma, arthritis and other debilitating diseases.

Ensuring easy access to healthy food and beverage choices in City worksites will provide opportunities for City employees to consume more nutritious food and beverages while at work, which will improve their health and their productivity as employees.

Under the ordinance any concessionaire operating a food and/or beverage vending machine on City property will be required to stock at least 50 percent of the items within each such machine with food and beverages items that meet the “Healthiest” or “Healthier” product selection criteria adopted by the Seattle King County Board of Health in the King County Healthy Vending Guidelines and to clearly label such items to inform consumers that such items meet the Guidelines.

We intend to review the implementation, compliance and impact of this ordinance one year from the effective date. This evaluation will include recommendations for promoting purchases of healthier foods and beverages, and will consider whether increasing the percentage of items in vending machines that meet the “Healthiest” or “Healthier” product selection criteria would promote healthier purchases. The ordinance also creates an accompanying education campaign conducted by the Department of Personnel to inform and educate City employees about the King County Healthy Vending Guidelines and the benefits of healthy vending choices.

This ordinance is one more step on the road to healthier eating and healthier lifestyles. Ultimately each of us must make these choices, but as a City we can provide the information and access that will encourage and facilitate good choices. The result will be benefits for the health of individuals and of our society, and reduced costs for our health care system.