No Half Way, 100% Healthy Vending

Posted on April 30, 2018

This guest post is by ELGL member Justin D. Cutler, with the City of Westminster, CO.

The role of municipal recreation services is evolving as health care, public health, and recreation blend in to wellness – related services that stretch from housing to physical and mental fitness.  

Medical services and public health thinking are pushing beyond the doctor’s office to focus on social determinants of health. Think complete streets, bike share, smoking policies in parks, and healthy vending.  These items all impact health, but at the social ecological level.

In 2016 the City embarked on the exploration of installing healthy vending machines in our recreation centers and staff areas in order to address the social determinants of health in Westminster.  
Our recreation facilities in 2017 received over 1,200,000 million visits. There are over 1,800 full time, hourly, and seasonal employees in the City. The City had already been recognized as a healthy employer regionally and won several regional awards for our self-insurance program and healthy living programs for employees.  
However, with every award we received the award committees commented that we would have scored higher if we offered health vending options.
The goal was to install new vending machines in 2017 that met a yet to be determined guideline.  The project would replace the City’s 43 vending machines across twelve locations, including six recreation facilities.  Luckily the City was located within the boundaries of Tri County Health Department (serving Douglas, Arapahoe, and Adams County) and Jefferson County Public Health Department.  The two health departments had formed the Healthy Beverage Partnership, along with several other counties in our region. The Healthy Beverage Partnership was instrumental in helping the City to plan, do, study, and act.  
Planning began with the exploration of vending guidelines.  This helped to determine the baseline goal and set the stage for an initial assessment of the 43 vending machines.  Based on the recommendation of the Health Beverage Partnership, the City adopted their recommended guidelines for food and beverages.   

This allowed for less than 200 calories per serving. 10% of calories could be saturated fat, 0 grams of Trans Fat, less than 8.5 grams of sugar per 100 calories, and less than 230 milligrams of sodium.   

After approving the guidelines, the Healthy Beverage Partnership audited the existing vending machines and found that only 11% of our food items met the health snack guidelines and 34% of our beverages met the guidelines across all of our facilities.  Based on the assessment the goal was set to achieve 100%.

We discussed the option of settling for 70% healthy items like other comparable communities had done in our region, but we opted for 100% to show our commitment to improving health in Westminster.    

After setting our target we conducted a request for proposal (RFP) process to select a vendor to assist with the next phase of implementation, do, and study.  We required the selected vendor to conduct taste testing with employee groups and the public, as part of their installation process, in order to gain feedback and buy in from these two key groups.  
Furthermore, we conducted our own product testing with the City Department Director’s prior to gaining their approval to move forward with the RFP process. All items were based on the guidelines and with the help of the Health Beverage Partnership.  
Through the RFP process we selected a local Colorado company, Dove Vending, to support our vending machines.  They helped with the product testing across the city and at our recreation facilities and we trimmed our vending machines from 43 to 23 based on the anticipated decrease in vending that is typical when implementing healthy vending.  
In March of 2017 we acted upon our findings, product testing, and auditing, and launched our 100% healthy vending program across 12 sites, and 23 machines.  Despite the decrease in revenue that we experienced we have only had two complaints from City Staff and we have received nothing from our facility patrons about the product offerings.  
We count this process and the implementation of our healthy vending program as a success. This would not have been possible if it were not for our relationship with our public health district, and the commitment of a local vending company to implement 100% healthy vending.  
One year later we continue to refine our product offerings, vending sales are on the rise, and we are getting recommendations from our staff and patrons on how to select even healthier items that would better meet their nutritional requirements.  
Furthermore, we recently won an award for our efforts from the Tri-County Health Department for being the first municipality in Tri-County Health District to implement a 100% Healthy Vending program.

This is a great honor, but an even bigger honor is knowing that we are no longer contributing to diabetes, and heart disease, through the vending at our recreation centers, and we are making the healthy choice, the only choice when recreating in Westminster.  

If you would like more information or a copy of our RFP please contact Justin Cutler at 303.658.2211.

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