University students want less sugar in vending machines

Students at the University of Malta want healthier choices in their vending machines, with 60% even saying they would be willing to pay more in exchange for healthier options

Students at the University of Malta want healthier choices in their vending machines, but for the past two years the 22 machines on campus have been constantly stocked with identical, unhealthy, sugary items.

A survey carried out among 298 students showed that 71% of respondents still purchased from the machines due to their easy accessibility, but 61% complained that the items are “too unhealthy”, with 74.6% showing enthusiasm for healthier choices. 60% even said they are willing to pay more in exchange for healthier options.

The survey results were published in Malta Medical School Gazette in an article penned by Sarah Cuschieri, Ryan Camilleri and Stephan Grech.

Beverage vending machines sold cold soft drinks, both regular and diet, iced teas, juices, energy drinks, sports drinks and water. The ‘water selection button’ was always found at the bottom of the vertical display, while the ‘regular soft drinks selection buttons’, were at eye level to the consumer.

The food vending machines were all packed with the same chocolate bars (18 different types and varieties), candy (4 varieties), snack bags (3 varieties), crisps (3 varieties), biscuits (2 varieties), wafers (2 varieties) and a chocolate-based cereal bar (1 variety). Packed salted nuts packages were found in five out of nine vending machines selling food items.

No fruit (fresh or dried), dairy products such as yogurts or vegetable items were available at the time of the observations.

“The vending machine food environment of the University of Malta provides limited options for purchase with predominance for sugary items,” the study said. Students tend to buy food and drinks from convenient locations and there is a lack of pre-prepared snacks from home.

However, students yearned for healthier options.

The study recognised that providing fresh and healthier options like fruit and vegetables through a vending machine may be “considered economical not viable”. However, large countries like the US, Japan and Australia have managed to implement such vending machines within public places.

In the Netherlands, a study confirmed that fruit and vegetables products stored in a refrigerated vending machine with a storage life of at least five days can be viable.

According to the study the university’s food environment may influence the eating habits and behaviours of students. “The university period is an important transition from student to adult life. Consequently, all influences encountered by university students will set the stage for lifelong choices that might even have an effect on their health status.”