Does Familiarity Govern Our Choices?

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I was watching the local news this morning and there was a segment on a company that is now putting healthy vending machines in schools around the area. They offer an assortment of options like energy bars, dried fruit, pita chips, protein shakes, and all natural sodas. It sounded like a pretty good idea. Personally I’d love one of these at work.

Then they said that they were installing these machines next to the existing ones to give kids a choice in their snacks. It reminded me of the documentary, Fat Head. (Worth a watch by the way.) In the film, they interviewed people on the street about which food choice was healthier – A or B. They used examples like french fries or baby carrots, soda or milk, a cheeseburger or grilled chicken breast.

As you would expect, all of the people asked were able to correctly identify the healthier choice. We know most times what we should be eating. There are gray areas like choosing between a restaurant salad and a cheeseburger. Lots of times the salad with cheese, dressing and other yummies is an equally bad choice just disguised well.

I think given the choice between a bag of dried fruit in one machine and a bag of fruit snacks in the other, the kids will go for the fruit snacks. This choice may be made based on taste, or it may be based on familiarity. If kids get fruit snacks at home and see them in the vending machine, they may be more likely to buy them because they know and like them. Would they really want to try dried fruit not knowing what it tastes like?

Vending MachineThe company’s premise is that they want to give kids the choice so that they learn to make better food choices on their own instead of having it forced on them. If they choose, then it becomes a lifelong habit. I’m just not convinced that this will work since there is no incentive to pick the healthy option for the kids that need the help the most. Kids used to eating healthy foods may pick these same foods in a vending machine.

When I go to a vending machine, I go hoping they have an option that I can fit into my already healthy eating. I’m thrilled when there’s the rare time they have something I can eat. But that’s the key, I go already looking for something healthy. Most kids will go just because they’re hungry. If there’s a choice for something that they are familiar with and tastes great and something that they rarely eat, I’m putting money on what they pick.

The company may have better luck if they take out the existing machines and remove the option. If the kids want something to eat or drink and they only have healthy choices, then they either eat healthy or go hungry. That’s the way it was in my day. You ate what you were served or you went hungry. Remember those times? 😉

If they eat enough healthy snacks, they might figure out that they like them and continue buying them. Maybe they’ll even ask Mom and Dad to buy them at home. Suddenly a healthy habit is born without even trying. I admit vending machines sure have a lot of pretty colors to look at.

What do you think? Will these vending machines help instill healthy eating habits or will they be full of uneaten food?

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