WAUKESHA - Office workers in search of snacks
will be counting calories along with their change under new
labeling regulations for vending machines included in President
Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law.
Requiring calorie information to be displayed on
roughly 5 million vending machines nationwide will help
consumers make healthier choices, says the Food and Drug
Administration, which is expected to release final rules in
The FDA estimates the cost to the vending machine
industry at $25.8 million initially and $24 million per year
after that, but says if just .02 percent of obese adults ate 100
fewer calories a week, the savings to the health care system
would be at least that great.
The rules will apply to about 10,800 companies
that operate 20 or more machines. While the proposed rules would
give companies a year to comply, the National Automatic
Merchandising Association has suggested a two-year deadline and
is urging the government to allow as much flexibility as
possible in implementing the rules.
Rick Pavlic, owner of Pavlic Vending Services in
Waukesha, said he was aware the regulation was on the horizon
and has been monitoring the issue through his trade association.
“It’s going to be potentially a significant pain
in the neck,” he said.
Pavlic operates almost 1,500 machines and said
the proposed regulations will cause problems for him when it
comes to putting labels in every single one. On top of that, he
said it will add a step to the process for changing the
offerings in a machine.
“I think it’s nonsense,” Pavlic said. “I think
it’s a continuation of the nanny state.”
He said the average consumer knows what is in any
item he or she purchases. If someone is buying a Snickers, he
said, it probably isn’t the first time.
The rules are not expected to be formally in
place until some time in March or April and Pavlic said the
burden they will place on him could depend on the final
“Until they publish the rules, we don’t know
exactly what we have to do,” he said.
It may make it easier, Pavlic said, if the
regulations would allow the makers of candy, snacks and soft
drinks to put nutrition info on the front of packages and have
it count for the vending machine requirement.
“Whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be an
inconvenience,” Pavlic said.
The FDA is also working on final rules for
requiring restaurants to post calorie information. A 2011 study
in New York found that only one in six customers looked at the
information, but those who did generally ordered about 100 fewer
calories. A more recent study in Philadelphia found no
difference in calories purchased after the city’s labeling law
“There is probably a subset of people for whom
this information works, who report using it to purchase fewer
calories, but what we’re not seeing is a change at an overall
population level in the number of calories consumed," said Brian
Ebel, the study’s author and an assistant professor at New York
University’s department of population health and medicine.
Ebel said he wouldn’t be surprised if the vending
machine labels end up being equally ineffective, but it’s
possible that consumers might pay more attention to them for a
couple of reasons. In some locations, a vending machine might be
the only food option, he said. And reading a list of calorie
counts on a machine will be less overwhelming than scanning a
large menu at a fast-food restaurant with other customers
waiting in line behind you, he said.