Like New York, KC takes on junk food

By Joe Lambe

Kansas City is about to fight junk food, in a lite way.

Health officials are preparing a model vending machine policy for inclusion in a city resolution.

The policy to be plugged into the new city vendor contract next year would forbid sugary drinks and require 60 percent of food to meet health criteria, said Sarah Worthington, health department public health policy specialist.

She reported progress this week to Mayor Sly James, who asked, “You mean like (New York Mayor) Michael Bloomberg?”

She replied, “Michael Bloomberg light, you might say.”

An appeals court recently overturned New York’s ban on businesses selling sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.

Worthington said Kansas City would only be encouraging businesses to do the right thing by example of its own vending machines.

On the proposed new O.K. list for city vending: Diet soda drinks, fruit juice without added sugar and vegetable juices without high salt content.

As for food, she said, you could even eat candy.

“The idea of not being able to get a Snickers bar at a vending machine is very odd,” she said.

But 60 percent of the food contents in the vending machine would have to be items like unsalted nuts, baked chips, animal crackers, things with a maximum calorie count of 250 and no more than 30 percent fat or 30 percent sugar by weight.

All noble stuff, but Worthington said, but “as much as we’d like to see health items in vending machines, they’re still vending machines.”

James suggested she look at other options such as those at Google, where “they go no more than 50 yards without being in a food station where everything is healthy – they encourage collaboration around food.”

Given the huge market at city hall for fast food, snacks and drinks, he asked, “might we do ourselves some good to allow somebody to come in and sell stuff here?”

Worthington said she is checking into it but knows that vending machine contents citywide will not change quickly or easily.

“There are huge cultural norms we’re working here to shift,” she said.

Just ask Bloomberg.

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