Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Akil Patterson, Deputy Director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, at the announcement that they will be proposing the “Maryland Health Vending Act” during the 2016 Legislative session, which would require vending machines to offer more healthy food options on state property. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Bill seeks to encourage healthier snacking in Md.

Sugar cubes represent the sugar content of a soda. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Sugar cubes represent the sugar content of a soda. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

This story has been corrected. An explanation follows the story.

If you tend to get sodas, chips and candy out of vending machines, a group of health advocates wants to you to consider something healthier.

But they don’t want to force you.

The Sugar Free Kids Maryland coalition is backing state legislation that will make healthier foods and drinks more common in vending machines on state property.

That includes machines on the campuses and in the dorms of public institutions like the University of Maryland as well as in state facilities like Motor Vehicle Administration offices, where one can spend hours waiting to be helped.

“You get hungry, you get thirsty,” said Akil Patterson, deputy director of the coalition. “Those vending machines in those facilities need healthy options.”

The coalition’s members include the American Heart Association, MedChi, the NAACP, the Horizon Foundation and the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

Under the proposed bill, 75 percent of the food and drinks in vending machines on state property would have to meet health standards, and healthier foods will be given prominent placement and displayed in a way that differentiates them from less healthy choices.

Plain bottled water would also be required in every machine, and calorie information would need to be placed on or near the machines.

The bill, which Patterson says will be introduced by Baltimore Del. Antonio Hayes in the House, is modeled on local legislation that has been adopted in Howard County and Baltimore.

But supporters stress the bill isn’t intended to keep anyone from getting the snacks they want.

“We’re not taking away anyone’s cola, we’re not taking away anybody’s chips,” said Michaeline Fedder, mid-Atlantic director of government relations for the American Heart Association. “We’re just giving people who want to eat healthy the opportunity to do so.”

Increasing access to healthy snack options is particularly important for the state’s black residents, said Jacqueline Boone Allsup, a nurse and first president of the NAACP’s Anne Arundel County Branch.

“Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity are all more prevalent in African-Americans more so than others,” she said. “And we suffer more consequences as a result, both in terms of family health and overall health care costs.”

Allsup said she’s seen the problem firsthand in her work as a nurse. “One-third of all children, and fully half of all African-American and Latino youth, will likely develop diabetes in their lifetime. We cannot allow diabetes to become that commonplace. It’s simply unacceptable.”

Vending machines that started stocking healthier snacks saw increases in monthly revenue in areas such as Missouri and the Chicago park system, according to a 2014 report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

One local vending machine supplier says when healthier snack options are offered in machines in schools, sales tend to drop. With soda, however, it’s a different story.

“The trend has become more health-conscious,” said John Vandenberge, owner of Maryland Vending, which supplies machines in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. The popularity of carbonated beverages has dropped, while sales of flavored water, tea  and sports drinks has gone up — to the point where the term “soda machine” isn’t even used anymore, he said.

The latest generations of vending machines already displays the calorie information of each product, which should help ensure a smooth implementation if the bill becomes law, Patterson said.

This summer, Baltimore officials brought healthier snacks to vending machines in city municipal buildings, and the the Howard County Council adopted a law similar to what the coalition is proposing, overturning a veto from County Executive Allan H. Kittleman to do so.

“We feel comfortable now that we can take this to the state level,” Patterson said.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that lawmakers in Baltimore adopted a law requiring healthy snacks in vending machines; although new machines were placed in city-owned buildings, a law was not passed.