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Experts are testing the effects of waiting times for unhealthy vending machine snacks
Many people are probably familiar with such problems: you are standing near a vending machine and suddenly you get a craving for chocolate. Researchers have now found that it makes a big difference if people wait around 25 seconds before buying unhealthy snacks. This time is enough to influence the purchase decision and can lead to the purchase of a healthier snack.
Rush University Medical Center researchers found that delayed access to tempting, high-calorie foods and snacks made shoppers choose healthier alternatives more often. The doctors released a press release on the results of the study.
Researchers are examining buying habits at vending machines
Waiting for something makes it less desirable, says author Dr. Brad Appelhans clinical psychologist at the Rush University Prevention Center. People strongly prefer immediate satisfaction. This preference influences decisions and behavior in everyday life. "We wanted to see if we could use this penchant for instant gratification to improve people's buying habits at vending machines," added Dr. Appelhans added.
The machine responds to unhealthy snacks with a 25 second delay
Vending machines are the most common source of high-calorie snacks in the United States. There are about 1.3 million vending machines there. For their study, the researchers developed a new vending machine system and created a technology called DISC system (delays to improve the selection of snacks). The so-called DISC machine system uses a delay function. When an individual selects a less nutritious snack, the system begins with a 25-second delay before the snack is released by the machine, the authors explain.
Buyers can change their choices while waiting
Vending machines with the DISC system also have an LED screen that shows the delay times for less healthy snack items and the delivery countdown. During this period, the buyer will be able to change their snack selection to a healthier option, the scientists say.
Waiting times have no negative impact on overall sales
This built-in delay resulted in a two to five percent increase in healthy snack purchases. We also found that this delay does no harm to overall sales or sales revenue. This point is of course particularly important for machine operators, explains author Dr. Appelhans.
Previous intervention strategies were undesirable
Earlier vending machine interventions focused on completely eliminating unhealthy snacks or the machines altogether, the researchers say. However, these strategies have proven to be undesirable because they limit the options available and reduce machine profits, the scientists explain.
What types of intervention have been reviewed?
The DISC vending machine study examined the following six vending machine interventions at three locations between June 2015 and August 2016.
- No intervention
- 25 second time delay for less healthy snacks
- 25 cents discount on healthy snacks
- 25 cent tax on less healthy snacks
- 25 second time delay for less healthy snacks and 25 cent discount for healthier snacks
- 25-second time delay and 25-cent tax on less healthy snacks
What interventions increased healthy snack sales?
Healthy snack shopping increased during the time delay, the researchers say. The same effect was also observed when 25-cent discounts for healthier options or a 25-cent additional tax were levied on unhealthy snacks.
Relatively short time delays lead to more sales of healthy snacks
Our findings with the DISC vending machine system indicate that relatively short time delays can lead people to choose healthier snacks, the scientists explain. The beneficial effect found on the snack selection is about as great as that of discounts. In contrast to discounts, a time delay does not lead to reduced sales, explains the author Dr. Appelhans. This could be a really interesting option for vending machine owners to offer healthy snack items without hurting profits.
What criteria did healthy snacks have to meet?
The study examined a total of 32,662 vending snacks from vending machines. The researchers had specific criteria for healthy snacks. Healthy snacks had to meet five out of seven criteria:
- Less than 250 calories per serving
- 35 percent or less calories from fat
- Less than 350 milligrams of sodium per serving
- No contained trans fats
- Less than 5 percent of the daily value of saturated fat per serving
- More than 1 gram of fiber per serving
- Less than 10 grams of sugar per serving
There is a great need for dietary intervention strategies
There is a great need for new dietary intervention strategies that combat environmental obesity factors, explains Dr. Obesity and poor nutrition are strong risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, the expert adds.
Vending machines are the main source of high-calorie foods in the United States
Vending machines have a wide reach and are the most common source of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods in the U.S., says Dr. The new vending machine system could be an effective and financially viable strategy that can shift individuals' choices towards healthier options, the researchers conclude. (as)