It’s no secret that vending machine offerings are not always the healthiest options for snacks and drinks. As one of the most convenient means to get a quick fix, vending machines are often the sources of high calorie snacks when you’re on the go.
According to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the simple act of making people wait for your snack in the vending machine can encourage them to make healthier snack choices.
Removing unhealthy snacks in vending machines have been tried to get people to snack healthier before, but have proven to have a significant impact on the machine’s profits. Now, preventative medicine experts at Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center have developed a vending machine that could help vending machine patrons to improve their snacking habits.
Researchers at the facility developed the Delays to Improve Snack Choices (DISC) vending machine, which employs a system called a “delay bar” that segregates the healthy from unhealthy snacks in the machine. When a person chooses an unhealthy snack, the machine will wait for 25 seconds before releasing the snack from the machine.
Apart from the 25-second delay for unhealthy snacks, researchers have also previously tested the effects of a 25-cent discount on healthy snacks, a 25-cent tax on less healthy snacks, a combination of the time delay and the discount, and a combination of the time delay and the tax. What researchers found was that placing the machines with these conditions increased the purchase of healthier snacks.
The study spanned three locations between June 2015 and August 2016, and ran a total of 32,662 snack sales.
The machine’s DISC system is color coded to label the healthy and less healthy snacks, and has a touchscreen menu that displays the countdown timer, and explains the delay mechanism.
Healthy snacks to be placed in the machine must meet at least five of a set of seven criteria for healthy snacks vs. regular snacks which include having no trans fats and having less than 35 percent or fewer calories from fat.
“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. 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,” said Brad Appelhans, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Rush University Medical Center.
He also explains that having to wait for something would discourage humans from choosing that option, due to man’s preference for immediate gratification. Since vending machines are one of the modern world’s sources for immediate snack choices that are not always the healthiest, the DISC system machine, which is currently protected by a PCT patent application, could very possibly encourage more people to snack on healthier food that they do not have to wait for.
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