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Coming soon: Calorie counts on vending machines

Chicago, San Antonio will be the first to use the calorie labels

Topics: Screening and Prevention, Methodologies, Performance Improvement, Evidence-Based Practice, Behavioral Health, Service Lines

October 11, 2012

The American Beverage Association (ABA) on Monday announced that soda manufacturers will begin displaying drink calories on vending machines starting next year.

The move anticipates a provision in the Affordable Care Act that would have required calorie labeling on vending machines starting this year but has not yet been finalized.

To start, Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., and Dr Pepper Snapple Group will display calories on their vending machines in Chicago and San Antonio municipal buildings. The soda companies will display messages such as "Try a Low-Calorie Beverage" and add calorie labels to selection buttons.

Eventually, ABA says it would like to take the initiative national.

In addition, ABA is funding a "wellness competition" between public sector employees in Chicago and San Antonio that will launch in conjunction with the new labels. The initiative "puts the spotlight on ways to do things collaboratively," according to ABA president Susan Neely.

The plan is part of a broader effort to reduce calorie consumption from soda. For example, New York City recently approved regulations banning sales of large sugary beverages in restaurants and convenience stores.

Some health experts say that ABA's move is a good first step, but not enough to curb the growing obesity epidemic.

Director of Yale University Prevention Research Center David Katz says calorie counts do not offer the whole nutritional picture. The labels "omit the fact that diet soda is not equal to water," he says, adding, "Diet sodas have no calories, but are at least as sweet as regular sodas. Evidence suggests they propagate a sweet tooth as readily as their sugar-sweetened counterparts" (Fiore, MedPage Today, 10/9; Esterl, Wall Street Journal, 10/8).

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