D.C. to start counting calories on drink vending machines in municipal buildings

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Local,DC,Food and Drink,Eric P. Newcomer

By placing labels with calorie counts on District government vending machines, Mayor Vincent Gray hopes city workers will pick healthier drinks.

"There are a lot of calories in a lot of these beverages, and they're not necessarily the most healthful calories, either," Gray said Thursday on NewsChannel 8. "Hopefully they will influence their decisions on what they buy."

The Calories Count Vending Program is part of an initiative that rolled out in October 2012 in San Antonio and Chicago led by the American Beverage Association, which represents the Coca-Cola Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo. Gray is ordering that all D.C. municipal buildings take part in the program.

The beverage organization will provide the labels, which is why, for now, they will appear only on drink machines.

Each button will be labeled with the calorie content of the drink, and the machines will feature a sticker in the top right-hand corner that says, "Calories Count: Check Then Choose."

Ward 3 D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh -- who has battled "Big Soda" before -- does not believe the industry's motives are entirely pure.

"I'm always skeptical of their attempts because they are money-centered. They want to make profits," she said. "When they see greater controls or efforts aimed at their junk-food industry, they try to come up with something and make it seem like they're doing something."

Cheh has proposed legislation that would place more stringent requirements on city-run vending machines.

Titled the Workplace Wellness Act, and jokingly called by Cheh her "broccoli-in-the-vending-machine bill," the proposed legislation would require that 30 percent of food items in the city's 4,000 federal and municipal government vending machines be healthy and 30 percent of drinks in vending machines be either water or 100 percent fruit juice.

A year after taking effect, those requirements would rise to 50 percent.

Stephanie David, assistant research professor in the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University, called the mayor's order a step in the right direction.

"It's really about changing the norms, and that tends to happen gradually over time," she said. "It's kind of about baby steps with public health initiatives."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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