Vending machine operators target childhood obesity with new push

WASHINGTON: Vending machine operators are joining the anti-obesity chorus with a new PR effort that will talk about nutritional options available in vending machines, while encouraging healthy eating and after-school activities for children.

WASHINGTON: Vending machine operators are joining the anti-obesity chorus with a new PR effort that will talk about nutritional options available in vending machines, while encouraging healthy eating and after-school activities for children.

An industry trade group, the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), is running the PR initiative, dubbed "Balanced for Life."

The group has created a website, www.balancedforlife.net, with cartoon characters who speak to kids about nutrition, education, and exercise. It's also partnered with America Scores, a nonprofit group that promotes education and physical activity, and with the Children's Hospital of Columbus, OH. The hospital has developed software that vending machine operators can use to rate their products' nutritional values and to print stickers rating other products by nutritional value.

Vending machines have come under attack in school districts as purveyors of junk foods and beverages that are contributing to childhood obesity.

"Vending machines have been unfairly portrayed. They offer a wide array of choices," said Jackie Clark, PR director for the NAMA and owner of Gaithersburg, MD-based PR firm Clark Communications.

Still, she said the impetus for the new campaign wasn't criticism of vending machines, but rather that "childhood obesity rates have been rising, and we're concerned parents, too."

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