There has been a bit of chatter about the push to bring healthy vending machines into Howard County Government buildings. I remember hearing some of it back on 2015 and a little more after the recent announcement from Howard County Government.

Earlier today I saw picture of vending machines at the library in Columbia stating the fact that vending machines at all Howard County Library System branches feature healthier food and drinks in accordance with Howard County Council Bill CB17-2015. I could not pass up the opportunity to go out at lunch today and verify that information. Here are the photos I got while visiting the library in Columbia (Central Branch):

I thought it was odd that they already had these healthy machines and HoCoGov will not until after September 2019. I also noticed some interesting things in the machines that did not seem to comply with the law. Here are some items I noticed:

Drinks:

If you look at the photo of the vending machines with drinks…you will notice there are 5 rows with 9 columns of options per row…so 45. I counted 18 columns of diet related drinks (or 40%). Now I did not check each option to see if they did or did not contain non-caloric sweetener…so maybe compliant.

The really noticeable thing to me was very little non-diet soda options are in this machine. There are a lot of options for everyone (water, flavored water, juice, tea and sodas).

Food and drinks:

No question that number (75%) is covered on the drink side. On the food side…not sure. Look at the photo above and you tell me? I did not do a count but I was a big fan of the food options in the machine (that generally means not very healthy). You can clearly see Doritos, Fritos, Cheese Its, Ruffles (cheddar cheese flavored), M&Ms, Snickers, pop tarts and a variety of other options I would purchase. Again…maybe they fit the definition of healthy per the law. If so…AWESOME. If not…not sure that machine is at 75% healthy.

Also…

This is a big swing and miss for those machines complying with the law. I did not see any type of display on or in the machines that made anything distinguishable of what is healthy and what is stuff I would buy in a machine (not healthy).

I did reach out to the Howard County Library System with a couple of questions I had…I spoke with Christie P. Lassen (Director of Communications and Partnerships) on the phone and she sent me a follow up email later in the day. The things I asked about were:

Does the library system have a different vending contract than HoCoGov? If so, when did it go into effect?

Who is responsible for compliance with the law for these machines? (I explained some of the things I had noticed in the machines – detailed above).

Here was the email she sent me this afternoon:

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your patience. I’ve been in meetings since you called.

First, thank you for bringing this to our attention. We do have a separate contract with vending machine vendors, which was last signed in 2017. We have asked the vendor to ensure all our  machines are in compliance, and we expect an answer back from them next week. Any outstanding machines will be brought into compliance asap.

Please let me know if you have any more questions.

Thanks,

Christie

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I want to thank Christie Lassen for following up with me…I always really like it when people do respond (many that I reach out to do not always).

Sorry for the low quality photos above…I did not bring my camera with me today and had to use my phone…and I am in serious need of a phone upgrade.

I personally love the options in the machines at the library. They work for me…just not 100% sure they follow the letter of the law that they note on signs on the machines.

I may follow this story up at a later time if I get additional details or find out changes have been made as a result of this post.

Scott E

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