Healthier Snack Choices Now Available at OU

According to the American Heart Association (2014), “vending machines are a highly visible source of food and beverages in the workplace” (p. 2). Vending machines are also a much-needed source of food and beverages in the academic setting. Consequently, healthier options should be available for those who are striving to eat and drink healthfully. The old adage remains true, “You are what you eat.”

The AHA (2014) also emphasized that a culture of health is created when organizations improve the nutritional quality of vending products. By joining the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) initiative on September 21, 2015, Oakwood University made a commitment to integrate 23 initiatives to create a culture of health, in the areas of food and nutrition, physical activity/movement, and overall programming. Consequently, one initiative encompassed the choices available from campus vending  machines. The Healthy Campus 2020 (HC 2020) Teams agreed to convert 50 percent of the items in the vending machines to healthier options, and the HC 2020 Committee of Chairs agreed to move forward with the vending machine conversion.

The Process

In planning this project, David Knight, vice president for student services, discussed options with the current vendor that supplies the campus vending machines. In addition, as the Director of the Healthy Campus 2020 program, I completed a random survey and site visits to locate all of the vending machines (snack and drink) on the campus. There was an initial count of 12 snack machines and 10 drink machines. In addition, I met with a representative from the State of Alabama who shared the state’s vending program, “Good Choice,” which was less rigorous than PHAs vending program.

However, in addition to snacks having to be 200 calories or less per serving and contain 230 mg of sodium or less, the state’s program wanted to ensure that the snacks contained  10% or less daily value of total fat;  10%  or less daily value of total carbohydrate; and  5% or more daily value of at least one: fiber, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, or iron.

Oakwood University utilized the 2015 school-approved list from the vendor which contained the available healthier snacks, based upon the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “All Foods Sold in Schools” standards.  Dean Knight and I selected the healthy snacks from the approved

list. For example, the snack had to be a whole grain-rich grain product or have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food, or be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable; or contain 10% of the daily value of calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber.

The snacks also had to meet the following criteria:

  • < or = 200 calories
  • < or = 230 mg of sodium (reduced in July 2016 to < or = 200 mg)
  • < or = 35% calories from fat
  • < 10% calories from saturated fat   and
  • zero grams of trans fat
  • the sugar limit had to be < or = 35% of weight from total sugars in foods (USDA, n.d.).

The vendor provided a wide variety of snack options for the students to sample, and 22 options were selected, 14 from the drink list, four (4) different types of Silk non-dairy yogurt as tasting options.

A vending fair was held in Blake Center on January 7, 2016, where students sampled only the snacks that were of interest to them. Baskets were labeled with numbers, different varieties of snacks were placed in the baskets, and a master copy with the number and the assigned snack, drink, or yogurt was prepared.


Evaluation forms were placed in front of each item so the evaluation could be correlated with the identified snack and number. On a scale of one (1) to six (6), questions included:

  1. How does the food look?
  2. How does the food taste?
  3. How is the texture? How does the food feel in your mouth?
  4. How does the food smell?
  5. How would you rate the food overall?

Some items were required a Yes or No answer:

  1. Was the snack too sweet?
  2. Was the snack too salty?
  3. Would you like to see this snack in the vending machine?

The beverage and yogurt snack options were organized in a similar fashion.

The Results

There were at least 100 participants in the vending fair and many passersby. This number was calculated as a result of those participating in the drink taste test. These participants sampled only one drink of their choosing and then evaluated it. However, the numbers were varied for the snack items. A template was made to calculate and analyze the results. Student workers in the Division of Student Services made a data collection sheet from the original that allowed them to score each question per participant. The final total was calculated and transferred to a master copy for the end results and comparisons.

Final Steps

The remaining steps were to collaborate with the vendor and decide on a transition date to convert the vending machines with the healthier options. The conversion occurred on March 1, while students were out on spring break. The snacks used in the conversion were those selected by the students at a rate of 50% or higher. The drink machines were completely converted by adding water, PowerAde, Vitamin Water, and 100% juices in August 2016 prior to the fall semester.

During a Chapel session, a slide was presented to inform students of the change and give them the locations of the vending machines. A campus-wide announcement was also sent out regarding the vending locations (Eva B. Dykes Library, Carter Hall, Physical Plant, Green Hall, Holland Hall, Edwards Hall, Wade Hall, and a drink machine in the West Oaks Apartments). Ongoing monitoring of the vending machines and usage will be integrated with the goal of “Making the Healthier Choice the Easy Choice” (PHA, 2016).

American Heart Association (2014). Guidance on vending machines. Retrieved from heart.org/foodwhereur.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (n.d.). Smart snacks in school: USDA’s all foods sold in schools” standards. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/allfoods_flyer.pdf
Partnership for a Healthier America (2016), Retrieved from http://ahealthieramerica.org/

by Shirna Gullo DNP, MSN, BSN, RN, director of Healthy Campus 2020

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