vending machine choices
Diet & Nutrition

Time Delays in Vending Machines Prompt Healthier Snack Choices

Healthy snack purchasing increased during the time delay condition, as well as when the machines were set to 25-cent discounts for healthier options or with a 25-cent additional tax on unhealthy snacks.

“Our findings with the DISC vending machine system suggests that relatively brief time delays can nudge people to purchase healthier snacks at least some of the time. The beneficial effect on snack choice is about as large as that seen with discounts, but unlike discounts, time delays do not harm the total revenue of vending machines,” said Appelhans. “This could be a viable option for vending machine owners to offer good, healthy snack options while keeping their sales and avoiding out-of-pocket costs.”

The study had a total of 32,662 vending machine snack sales.

The DISC system also color coded and labeled the healthy snacks from the regular, less healthy snack options. The machines also had clear signs indicating that regular, less healthy snacks would vend after a 25-second time delay. There was a touchscreen menu explaining the system delay mechanism and a countdown timer.

The researchers also had specific criteria for healthy snacks vs. regular snacks. Healthy snacks must meet 5 of 7 criteria which included:

  • Less than 250 calories per serving
  • 35 percent or fewer calories from fat
  • Less than 350 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • No trans fats
  • Less than 5 percent of daily value of saturated fat per serving
  • More than 1 gram of dietary fiber per serving
  • Less than 10 grams of added sugar per serving

“There is a major need for new dietary intervention strategies that combat obesity-promoting factors in the environment,” said Appelhans. “Obesity and poor diet are strong risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”

“Vending machines are conveniently located, have a broad reach and are the most prevalent source of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods in the U.S.,” said Appelhans. “They are not going anywhere any time soon, so this new vending machine system could be an effective and financially viable strategy that can shift individuals’ choices towards healthier options.”

This technology is protected by a PCT patent application.