Vending unhealthy food and drinks: Let’s put a stop to it!

A recent statement by the Australian Medical Association caught my attention. The medicos are declaring a war on sugar, calling for taxes on sugary drinks, ban on advertising unhealthy food to children, and removal of vending machines selling unhealthy food and drinks in medical facilities. This last point I particularly like.
I have been noticing all these vending machines around the campus at Sydney University. What are they selling: the worst possible drinks and snacks, loaded with sugar and other nasties. And who are they selling to: typically to students and academics stuck at Uni after hours, when all cafes and regular shops are closed. But the type of food and drinks on offer is something that is least needed in that situation. An apple, a banana, some walnuts or almonds, or some plain milk (perhaps soy milk) would do those folks so much better than a can of Coke, or a Kit Kat bar.
A little less known sugar dispensing device is hidden in the kitchenettes of the various University departments. These are so called ‘charity snacks’ where you can get some chips or a Cherry Ripe bar in exchange for a specified ‘donation’. Really just another type of unhealthy vending machine.
It is time we stopped this practice, and certainly Universities are good places to champion such a change. We should ask for the content of the vending machines to be replaced with much more healthy options, and we should not allow unhealthy food and drinks to be sold through vending machines on campus. It is not hard to imagine a vending machine that dispenses apples, salads, or good nuts (not just salty peanuts). This would be good for the health of academics and students, and will set an important example to the wider community.
It would also be good for Planetary Health, an initiative that was recently unveiled at Sydney University.
I have written before on this blog how sugar through its whole supply chain is not only causing human health issues, but also environmental, and even economic health problems.The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that it is an excellent example of how a supposedly sophisticated food supply chain is very detrimental to Planetary Health. Sugar is certainly not alone (just think palm oil), but it is a good place for humanity to start seriously reconsidering how we produce, distribute and consume food. Putting a stop to the practice of selling expensively packaged sugar through the vending machines would be a first step in a right direction!

Author: Tiho Ancev

Tiho Ancev is a Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the School of Economics, University of Sydney. His main research areas are agricultural, environmental, natural resource and energy economics. Tiho’s main contributions have been in water economics and policy, economics of energy, economics of air pollution and climate change policies, and economics of precision agriculture and agricultural input use. He has published widely on these topics in top international peer reviewed journals. Tiho has led and contributed to national and international research projects in these research areas. He is currently the Managing Editor-in-Chief of the Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.