Should Vending Machines Post Calorie Counts?

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog noticed that both health care reform bills currently making their way through our lovely government have provisions that require vending machines to display the calorie counts of items inside.

The WSJ says:

The requirement, which wouldn’t apply for people who own fewer than 20 vending machines, is part of sections in both bills that would also require chain restaurants to post calorie counts.

There’s been some debate about whether or not putting calorie counts on menus actually makes any difference. Do you think knowing the calories before you press those buttons would influence your decision?

Should Vending Machines Post Calorie Counts? [WSJ Health Blog]


Edit Your Comment

  1. merely_a_muse says:

    That actually sounds kinda handy on a vending machine. If you’re really worried about calories/fat content/whatever you should maybe look that shit up pre going to a restaurant but if you’re just grabbing a snack somewhere it might be helpful to have that info posted.

    • diasdiem says:

      Bag of chips or candy:
      20 oz. Soda: around 240 calories
      Vending Machine Pastry: 300-400 calories
      Gum: Seriously? You’re worried about the calories in a pack of Juicy Fruit?

      There. Problem solved.

    • ohenry says:

      I agree. As someone who frequents the vending machine (work in an office and don’t have a way to bring my own food in) I don’t know the calorie count until I buy the item. I’d love to have them posted; even if it’s just some brochures on the machine.

    • ARP says:

      Thinking in terms of logistics. How would they post it. Those spiral vending machines can have 15+ products, how (and where) would they list all the information for each product? Also, the contents change fairly regularly, so how would they maintain the lists? I agree that its a good idea. I just think the value of the information we would get doesn’t outweigh the cost and complexity of actually implementing it.

  2. BenChatt says:

    I think I would like it, but just because it’s useful doesn’t mean we have to legislate it…

  3. Ragman says:

    Could try putting the items in backwards.

    • Preyfar says:

      But then you have the fact the labeling text is all tiny. You’d have to buy a magnifying glass from the vending machine first so you could read the fat count on that pack of Fritos to find out if it’s healthy or not.

      And that’d just be ridiculous.

  4. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    there’s this new-fangled thing you might have hear of. It’s called the Internet. Al Gore invented it a little while back.

    Amazingly enough, it gives you access to information. Things like what color underwear Tiger Woods wore today, what the weather in Kerplunkistan is going to be like tomorrow, and nutritional information about various foods! I know! I can’t believe it myself.

    If they feel the need to legislate this, then maybe they should go all the way and demand that the package be made of bio-degradable paper, only be in one standard off-white color, with one font face that says what the product is, like ‘chips’ or ‘chocolate’. Then, in the same size font, the number of calories the stuff in the package contains.

    Just someone, for the love of all that’s holy, explain to me how to use the three sea shells when the time has come. I need to go enhance my calm.

    • Torgonius wants an edit button says:

      And there should also be a loud voice generated by the machine, that demands your identification, then as you make your purchase, announces to the whole building that ‘John Spartan’ just purchased a package of chips containing 150 calories!

      • anduin says:

        that would be quite the detractor for most people when buying goodies. Damn I know if a machine belted out “Anduin has bought two packages of Reese’s pieces, what a pig” I would avoid candy forever.

      • brandihendrix says:

        …and then demands to see your receipt…

      • your new nemesis says:

        Actually, even better would be a blood pressure monitor to ensure that you are healthy enough to consume said snack

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          don’t forget that it will also send a message to your health insurer to let them know that you have moved into a high risk group by consuming the fried, rather than the baked, lays potato chips

    • H3ion says:

      Pardon the ignorance but what are the three sea shells?

      • SaraFimm says:

        It’s from the movie Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone. He had to use the bathroom and instead of toilet paper, they had 3 sea shells (controls). Probably referring to a high tech bidet-style toilet.

        • Preyfar says:

          LIIIES! It’s from Demolition Man, one of the best good films of all time.

          Although, I can see your confusion. =P Demolition Man and Judge Dredd both had Sylvester Stallon and Rob Schneider.

    • Preyfar says:

      Wait, they sell internets in vending machines now?

    • Copper says:

      Best comment ever!

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      So if you’re standing in front of a vending machine and wondering about the calories in a small bag of X you should leave and search for a computer that you can use to search for that info, even if that means going home? And that’s better than just having the information there in front of you?

      I don’t think this needs to be legislated either but there’s nothing inherently wrong with getting information from something other than Google.

      • lawnmowerdeth says:

        So you would choose a small bag of Cheetos over Doritos because one might be more healthy for you?
        Here’s a hint: Neither are good for you!

        • Rectilinear Propagation says:

          So you would choose a small bag of Cheetos over Doritos because one might be more healthy for you?

          What does that have to do with whether or not all info should be gleaned from Google?

          • halfcuban says:

            It has nothing to do with it other than to make a smart aleck comment about something that makes sense; consumers having more information. I’m not quite sure where knowing MORE is considered Orwellian, other than in the heads of goofball’s who believe that warning labels are somehow a sign of The Man (TM) beating them down.

  5. bhr says:




    /that should cover it.

    Seriously, are companies going to start having to give out calorie counts for donuts in meetings or deli trays in the break room? My boss is buying me a birthday cake, is she going to have to post calorie counts before we cut in?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      With restaurants I can see how it could be very useful. With vending machines – come on. You KNOW that pack of snack cakes is bad for you, look at it! What they should do is put mirrors on every vending machine, so you can take a good look at yourself as you covet that pack of Doritos.

      • TheWillow says:

        The pack of snack cakes is bad for you, obviously, but how about the popcorn? What about the popcorn versus the granola?

    • inadequatewife says:

      Agreed that the vast majority of vending machine content is horribly unhealthy and anyone who doesn’t already know that, doesn’t need to know the difference between one bag of chips and the next.

      I’m all for chain restaurants posting calories on their menus – but I disagree about requiring small restaurants, small bakeries, etc. to go through the whole process of coming up with nutrition labels for everything.

      For vending machines, I think it’s impractical. The content of the vending machine often changes depending on what’s on the delivery guy’s truck on any given day. One slot may be filled with the same thing repeatedly, but there’s no guarantee each slot will have the same item from visit to visit. The time and labor required to constantly monitor and change stickers/labels to match the product will significantly increase the price, I would think.

      The whole labeling process is getting out of hand. Consumers need to take some responsibility for knowing that the donut tray in the breakroom is not the healthiest choice… tasty, but not healthy.

      • ARP says:

        I’m with you. I don’t disagree with the principle, I just think the logistics and enforcement would be expensive compared to the benefit.

  6. Notsewfast says:

    I’m pretty sure any shelf-stable pastry or baked goods can pretty much be assumed to be hazardous to your health…

  7. TacoDave says:

    Lame. Personal accountability should trump bureaucratic nonsense.

    Everyone knows that the bag of chips is saltier than the Starburst candies, but neither one is really healthy. How would the owner rotate stock? Would the delivery guys have to put on new stickers every time?

    Like I said: lame.

  8. H3ion says:

    Unless the person servicing the vending machine puts the exact mix of products in the exact same place every time, this is really putting an unreasonable burden on the servicer. Does anyone really go to a vending machine and expect to get healthy food? Does anyone believe that the government is really out to help us? Chips, check; chocolate, check; chewing gum, check; yogurt, check. C’mon.

    • Tim says:

      I’d imagine that the owner/service person can put up little pieces of plastic, similar to the price sign, that could easily be moved around.

  9. cash_da_pibble says:

    Nice idea.
    But a little too far.


  10. trentblase says:

    Sounds hypocritical, considering the Dirkson Senate Building has one of these in the hallway:

    • antisan says:

      ………eww, what the heck?

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      my workplace has a pizza vending machine and an ice cream vending machine in the utility room attached to the loading dock.
      no one ever goes there except to pick up office supply deliveries and the lights in the machines are never on. i like to think it’s because we know better and the idea of vending machine pizza is just gross.
      but it’s probably just because a vending machine pizza is listed as $6 and we’re all trying to pinch pennies

    • captainpicard says:

      that is just foul

  11. trujunglist says:

    people need to use common sense before buying something. i don’t think you need a posted notice on every single fucking thing, especially when it’s a bag of chips or candy bar. duh, that shit isn’t good for you! wait, maybe it’s the new kind of snickers that isn’t the standard 240 or so calories that every single candy bar is, and hmm, maybe it doesn’t have the crazy high fat/sat fat contents that every candy bar has, so I’d better look it up on this chart…

  12. SaraFimm says:

    Diabetics don’t necessarily worry about calories as for carbs. Why do they always get upset about calories when most people don’t care and there is a growing segment of the population that should worry about carbs? And most foods that have high carbs usually also have high calories so if it has high carbs, it’s just as “not good for you” as something with high calories. Meanwhile, if you want a quick snack after a long tiring day and you’re in peak condition, you may be able to afford that higher carb snack.

  13. valthun says:

    bad idea, items change a lot. Also where the hell would that go? On top of which all packaging in the machine has the specific nutritional information on them, which is the reason why it was added to restaurants as you don’t get a card on the plate.

  14. redwall_hp says:

    No. (And fast food restaurants shouldn’t have to either.) If you need to be worrying about calorie counts, you shouldn’t be eating anything from vending machines or fast food establishments.

    It’s stupid things like this that make people whine about “government regulation…”

    • TheWillow says:

      Uh. The government isn’t making you not eat crappy food. It’s just ensuring that consumers have the possibility to be educated.

      Marcie Syms gets it, why don’t other people.

  15. hypnotik_jello says:

    Apparently the study conducted in poor neighborhoods showed a paradoxical affect of the calorie count legislation, as people who had less money to spend on food were more likely to maximize their caloric intake (Calories/per $) vs. eat healthier.

    • Alys Brangwin says:

      Solution: End corn subsidies so there is no more artificially cheap junk food. Invest that money in urban farming, establishing farmer’s markets in poor neighborhoods, and if you still want to subsidize stuff, give it to fruit and vegetable producers or farmers who don’t work in monoculture.

      I wish something like that could happen, but corn and soybean producers have so much money and power, they write the farm bill giveaways to themselves every year.

  16. Mock says:

    Sounds good to me. You could post a master list in a corner on the inside of the glass. It doesn’t have to be that big.

    One advantage is that it would discourage the snack manufacturers from using the shrink ray. Vendors would be irate they had to constantly update the lists, and my guess is that the manufacturers would rather not have unhappy distributors.

  17. Synth3t1c says:

    no. they’re on the bag, but honestly you know if that bag of chips or candy bar is good for you or not… if it’s a real food one (with sandwiches or whatever) then sure.

  18. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    In a semi-related issue, I now have an intense craving for Hot Fries. Seriously. They’re just right there – 200 calories of pure spicy neon orange deliciousness!

  19. Geekmom says:

    I think this is a waste. No one goes to a vending machine and pick a bag of Fritos thinking it is diet food.

    • MrAP says:

      Unfortunately, we have to bend over backwards for the morons of the world, instead of making them strive to be better than they are.

  20. clairedeloony says:

    Calorie labeling helps people who are on a diet. I don’t know how it would help anyone else, so I’m assuming all these concerned health-conscious legislators want us all to be on a diet. Intuitive eating be damned, let’s all write our counts in a little book every day and live in terror of going one potato chip over the limit!

    Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but I don’t like the way Healthy Eating is presented as a numbers game all the time. I’ve done the numbers game, I’ve kept the food journal and feared the extra potato chip, and it’s not workable in the long term. A much better idea would be to put things like non-cheesy popcorn, dried fruit, etc. in the snack machine next to the Snickers. Lots of healthy options, not just one granola breakfast bar off in the corner.

    But dear god don’t legislate it. I don’t want to end up standing on a scale to qualify to buy some fries.

  21. barfoo says:

    Makes perfect sense to me, because if you were to go into a convenience store you would be able to read the ingredient list and nutrition info on the package; in this case the only reason you can’t is that the items are behind glass. This is really just an extension of the logic behind ingredient and nutrition labels.

    • Kitamura says:

      If you’re buying shit out of a vending machine instead of the convenience store or supermarket, chances are you don’t care what the calorie count is in what you’re buying. Like seriously, a vending machine will sell you the same thing you get at the 24H convenience store down the street with a 25% markup, and anywhere up to 3x the cost from a grocery store.

      • barfoo says:

        There may not be a convenience store nearby (for example, at night on college campuses). I’ve certainly been in a situation where my only practical choice was a vending machine.

  22. cmdr.sass says:

    two words: nanny state

  23. psm321 says:

    I don’t particularly care about calories, but as a vegetarian, I would love to have an ingredients list available somewhere (on the side of the machine maybe?) for all the items inside.

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      As long as you’re not vegan, you should mostly be ok. Just stay away from the beef jerky, that ain’t veggies at all.

      • subtlefrog says:

        Not really – gelatin hides in a remarkable number of things, and even some Doritos have beef flavoring in them.

        I am vegan, and I’d love to have the ingredients – milk is an ingredient in random stuff, too, would be great to know what I’m getting.

        • psm321 says:

          Ugh. I especially hate how gelatin is now in most brands of sour cream and yogurt. It wasn’t like that until about a year ago (some sort of cost savings measure is my guess)

  24. cosby says:

    Vending machine companies can change out the product in a machine pretty often making lists hard. Also think of how many items can be in one of these machines. The space it would take to display that much info would be nuts. This is on top of the fact that the items in the machine have the info on them. If you really decide you don’t want it then throw it away.

  25. Scoobatz says:

    Good idea, but his whole issue would go away if the government could just tell me what to eat everyday.

  26. suburbancowboy says:

    I would like to know all of the ingredients. Sometimes things you don’t expect to have MSG and aspartame have those ingredients.
    As a general rule of thumb, I avoid vending machines. But there are those occasions.

  27. your new nemesis says:

    This point of sale calorie information is not enough. I think it would be best if commercials had calorie counts too. Every time you open a magazine and see and ad, it will have calorie information. When movies and tv shows do advertising, there should be some text explaining how many calories are in that coke that the american idol judge just drank. The olympics should be filled with fliers by all their advertisers explaining all these numbers, as well as any sports venue. Bars should have calorie counts on pitchers and mixed drinks. Then and only then will the world be safe from over-consumption, and we can all live healthy fit lives.

    • lucky929 says:

      I know you’re kidding, but I’d love to know how many calories are in some mixed drinks. I usually get the same two things, and know what they are, but I’d love to see how much some of the epic margaritas and such are.

      007s forthewin.

      • your new nemesis says:

        That is a good point, i should probably find out how many calories are in the beer that I drink.

        Yeungling ftw

        • lucky929 says:

          Ooh, yeungleng.

          The men who taught me to drink refused to drink anything cheaper than yeungleng. As a result, I can’t deal with cheap beer.

  28. parrotuya says:

    Good idea even though some people won’t care.

  29. Andrew360 says:

    Why does anyone care about this crap? If you feel the need to check the calorie count before making a purchase (from a vending machine) maybe you should reconsider stuffing your face in the first place.

    I think product labeling is good so that consumers know what’s in their food. The new requirements, forcing vendors of any type to basically advertise this information, is overkill. If you want the information, stop being lazy and ask for it. If you think eating out of a vending machine might be unhealthy, then you should walk (healthy) to the nearest Whole Foods and stop whining.

    Everyone is making a huge deal over obesity, but people should slow down and stop over reacting. Is it good to be overweight? Not if you want to be “healthy,” however, people (even fat ones) are living much longer today than ever before. Why must we get all bent out of shape if people don’t live to 115 years old.

    • TheWillow says:

      Cool, remind me to tell the person living in the worst neighborhood of New York to stop whining and walk several miles to the whole food that they can’t afford to shop in anyway, during their (only given because it’s mandated by law) 15 minute break at work.

      • Andrew360 says:

        The point is that people need to take some personal responsibility for what they eat or think about eating. Labeling on vending machines will only point you to the least unhealthy product there. If you want to eat healthier, then bring something from home, or find another way to avoid the machines all together.

        Also, many manufacturers of the products sold in these machines take the advertising into their own hands, e.g. 100 Calorie Packs. Why must we cause the price of a small bag Cheez-its to go from $0.85 to $1.00?

        • halfcuban says:

          How in the hell will information being posted, probably in the form of a sticker, on a vending machine cause the cost of a bag of Cheeto’s to go up, especially when that nutrition information has already been calculated, and is in fact already on the side of the bag that you can’t see. None.

          Also the implication is that everything in a vending machine is “unhealthy” which is interesting, since the variety of good’s in many vending machine’s is a literal cornucopia of odd things these days, from breakfast and granola bars, to the traditional candies and other high-calorie snacks.

  30. glorpy says:

    Wasn’t this done in NYC a year ago for fast food restaurants? Didn’t we find that it had absolutely no positive effect? As such, this is pretty clearly just wasteful legislation.

    We have real world case studies on efficacy? Why aren’t we using them?

    • TheWillow says:

      What we found is that in the poorest areas of the city, the AVERAGE calorie order went up around a very small amount. This absolutely fails to take into account the likelihood that people who actually pay attention to them decided maybe to forgo fast food altogether.

  31. Cantras says:

    I’m not sure I’d pay attention, but I know I passed some vending machines in an airport recently, with a sticker on the inside wall urging me to eat healthy snacks, defined by XYZ nutrition parameters. Great to know parameters… no clue what so ever what any of the health info of the snacks was. Way to be useful, healthy-eating sticker.

    • hoi-polloi says:

      They have the same signage in the vending machines where I work. The more healthy options have green plastic sleeves that go over the spiral dividers. When checking which items have the green spirals and which don’t, there aren’t many surprises.

  32. metsarethe... says:

    not that I think we need this but why not all vending machines then?

    politicians trying to capitalize on what is popular to legislate. … bah humbug

  33. Benny Gesserit says:

    Use a few bucks to put up a sign on the machine: “These products are RARELY, if ever, a part of a balanced diet” and let people make their own choices – because choosing to eat well has to be a conscious choice.

  34. Ratuig says:

    Anyone who is counts calories and eats healthy isn’t goin anywhere near one of these vending machines anyway! So… No, let the fatties enjoy their ignorance and their caloric intake.

    • halfcuban says:

      Really? I was unaware that vending machine’s never stocked breakfast bars, granola bars, and other forms of healthy food. As I’ve commented elsewhere, the days of vending machines as solely dispensers for traditional chips and candies is long gone, with the variety of good’s sold through them becoming increasingly diverse DUE to consumer demand for alternatives. There’s whole companies that do nothing but provide “healthy” vending machines.

      • Noir says:

        Really? I wasn’t aware that a granola bar loaded with HFCS and other aditives is as healty as a… you know.. TRUE granola bar.
        Seriously, nothing from a vending machine can be healthy unless it’s something like raisins or asdf.

  35. The Porkchop Express says:

    When I go to the vending machine calories are the least of my concerns. Just make sure the stuff is at least close to fresh.

  36. Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

    While this might be a well-intended idea meant to inform people to allow them to better make choices, the implementation of this would be kludgy at best, due to the fact that what is stocked inside most vending machines can and does change from week to week.

  37. theblackdog says:

    Dumb idea, especially because the actual snacks provided do change. So if they ditch the fritos and put a bad of funyuns in its place, then you have to update the sign.

  38. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Sounds good to me.

  39. TheWillow says:

    We have Fresh Direct vending machines at work that have all of the nutritional value on them and other than the fact that I only am willing to pay $8 for a microwavable meal if it’s the only option (meetings until after the cafeteria is closed), I’ve definitely made my decision on which one to get based on the nutritional facts.

  40. vladthepaler says:

    They really ought to include all the nutritional information (from product labels). In the store, you can inspect that, see the ingredient list, etc., so you have some idea how many days worth of salt you’re dumping into your body (for example). Vending machines hide all the nutritional information from the consumer until the product has been purchased.

  41. madanthony says:

    I have no idea how this would work. I pretty regularly see machines where a given row has different items in the front and back of the same number. I suspect this would pretty difficult, unless maybe they attach a binder full of nutrition guides to the side of the machine.

    I’m pretty conscious about what I eat, but I don’t need to see the nutrition info to know that I should probably go with the pretzels and not the pudding-filled deep-fried pie.

  42. halfcuban says:

    The biggest flaw in people’s reasoning is the constant caterwauling that vending machine food is intrinsically unhealthy, which suggest’s that commenter’s have been nowhere near one in the past 5 years. Most vending machine’s are increasingly stocking a wider variety of good’s beyond the traditional chips and candies, especially as alot of health food companies that make nutritional supplement bars and the like are getting into the vending machine and convenience store market attempting to find broader access to consumers. So yes, knowing the nutritional facts is important.

  43. BytheSea says:

    Worl, yeah. Just like any other food i buy, i try to get the most food for the least calories and the least cost. Just b/c it coems from our robot mother’s womb doesn’t make a difference.

  44. soj4life says:

    it would be a pain in the ass, but it could be done. The owner needs to have clings with the name of the product and the calorie content underneath. just post them on the inside portion of the glass in front of the product or along either side.

  45. nofelix says:

    Why are people asking where this information would go and how it would be updated? We’ve put guys on the moon, putting labels on snacks is not going to be hard.

    All the snacks already have B3, D8 etc. written on the end of each line. Adding extra characters to show calories is so simple. Or each bulk box of snacks could come with a detachable standard insert.

  46. JFetch says:

    The vending machine at my work gets filled once a week, but with different things each time. I don’t see how they could list the calorie count of everything that may or may not be in the machine at the time. We already have calorie counts on our food, and that doesn’t stop us from pigging out, so how would this help?