Coming Soon: Vending Machine Calorie Counts

The Affordable Care Act doesn’t just mean highly entertaining conversations over dessert amongst your relatives this holiday season. There’s one new requirement that’s been sort of overshadowed by health insurance exchanges and electronic medical records: companies that own more than 20 vending machines will have to post calorie counts for the items they sell.

Wait…don’t individually wrapped snack foods already have calorie counts? Sure, but those are on the back or side of the package, under glass. The new counts would have to be visible before you choose an item, helping consumers to make more sensible and less calorific choices. In theory.

The new requirements mean that about 5 million vending machines nationwide will display calorie information. That’s at a total cost to the industry of $25.8 million to set up machines, and $24 million per year to maintain and update the calorie counts.

The owner of one snack machine company interviewed by the Associated Press said that the new requirements would mean offering less variety in items as her five employees maintain the inventory and the nutrition information in hundreds of machines.

Still, if only a small percentage of snackers every day looked at those numbers and picked an item with 100 fewer calories, it could mean millions in savings for the country’s health care system. Not that this is all that comforting to the owners of vending machine companies, who complain that they have to make a large investment with nothing in it for their industry.

The Food and Drug Administration will draw up guidelines for the calorie-count program early in 2014, and they’ll roll out to machines after that.

Restaurants with more than 20 locations will have the same requirements, but many of them have a head start in posting calorie counts, spreading them nationwide after some municipalities started requiring them. Some soft drink companies already have a head start on posting stats on their vending machines, too.


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