Sydney research shows public appetite for healthier vending machines

Health conscious Australians are hungry for more nutritious options in fast food vending machines according to new research by the University of Sydney and University of Wollongong.

The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, reveals an appetite for healthy food options such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and yoghurt in vending machines in public places like hospitals and universities.

University of Sydney Public Health School
University of Sydney Prof Vicki Flood

Eighty seven percent of the 240 people surveyed thought the current range of vending machine snacks are “too unhealthy,” with 80 percent willing to pay the same or even extra dollars for healthier alternatives.

The lead researcher and accredited practising dietitian, Professor Vicki Flood from the University of Sydney, said vending machines are part of an unhealthy environment which is contributing to a rise in diabetes and obesity through the availability of energy-dense snacks and sugary drinks.

“We know that around one third of our daily calorie intake comes from snacking and with the busy lifestyles that we all lead, healthy eating often falls victim to convenience,” said Professor Flood.

“However this study shows that many Australians are becoming more aware of their diet and there is an opportunity to use vending machines to promote healthy snacking, particularly in busy environments like train stations and hospitals.”

The study was conducted in a university campus and public hospital in regional Australia, and surveyed the views of over 120 students and 120 hospital employees, patients and visitors.

The researchers also assessed the impact front-of-packet nutritional labelling had on purchase decisions, finding that more people chose the healthier food option when presented with nutritional values before purchase. The same impact was not seen in the drinks category.

A 2012 audit of vending machines in Sydney train stations by Professor Flood and colleagues at the University of Wollongong found few healthy snacks are on offer.

Only three percent of all vending machine slots were allocated to healthier choices like nuts, tuna or portion-controlled chips, and these options were generally more expensive.

Following a food preferences survey of 650 students earlier this year, the University of Sydney will be trialing more nutritious options in vending machines from Semester 2, 2015.

Ms Elly Howse from the Health Sydney University initiative said over 90 percent of students showed an interest in healthier food for lower cost.

“We are trialling better vending machine options in popular library and study spaces, as we know from our students that convenient food options are needed after-hours when campus food outlets are closed,” said Ms Howse.

“This is just one of the many initiatives we are undertaking at the University of Sydney, in collaboration with the University of Sydney Union, to give students more choice and opportunities to make better decisions for their health and well-being.”

Professor Flood said there are logistical challenges to improving vending machines but innovative businesses in Queensland and Melbourne have already recognised the market potential.

Public Health at the University of Sydney

The public health program at the Sydney Public Health School focuses on the prevention of illness and the promotion of health, with practitioners playing a proactive rather than a reactive role, especially with regard to the coordination of relevant community resources. The program provides the opportunity to develop skills and acquire knowledge essential for the effective practice of public health, including the effective management of community health problems.

Public health a Sydney Uni is open to students from health and non-health backgrounds. Public health is
  • preventing disease;
  • promoting health; and
  • prolonging life.
Program: Master of Public Health
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intakes: March and July
Duration: 1 year
Application deadline: January 31, 2016 for the March 2016 intake

Entry Requirements: A successful applicant for admission to the Master of Public Health program requires
  • a minimum four-year full time degree or equivalent qualification from the University of Sydney or an equivalent qualification; or
  • a shorter degree from the University of Sydney or an equivalent qualification, and non-degree professional qualifications and/or substantial relevant experience and/or other relevant qualifications.

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