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The Dirty Dozen: Assessing the Nutritional Quality of the Twelve Most Purchased Vending Items on a Large University Campus

Kavitha Sankavaram, Janice Goldschmidt, Mira Mehta and Nadine R Sahyoun

The poor nutritional quality of snacks in vending machines may contribute to obesogenic food environments. Understanding the obesogenic food environments and accessibility to healthy foods may help policymakers identify approaches for improving the food environment. This study conducted in 2017-2018 assessed the nutrient density and quality of snacks sold in vending machines at a land grant university and examined their spatial proximity to other food sources. The list of vending machines, their location, the revenue generated from each machine, and the most popular snack list were obtained from the campus business services. Researchers evaluated snacks in vending machines independently utilizing two validated assessment tools: Nutritional Environment Measures Survey-Vending assessment tool (NEMS-V) for overall snack healthfulness and Health Density Vending Machine Audit Tool (HDVMAT) for snack nutrient density. There were 81 snack vending machines on campus, and each machine generated varying levels of revenue. A sample of the top 25% revenue generating machines located in buildings with high student traffic were selected for snack healthfulness (n=20) and spatial food proximity analyses. Assessment by both tools revealed that most of the snacks in these vending machines were of low nutritional quality. The 12 most popular snacks (“dirty dozen”) were comparable in nutritional quality to what was being offered in the campus-wide vending program. The spatial analysis found that significant portions of the campus were more than half a mile from any quality food source, likely contributing to greater consumer use of these vending machines. Based on this sample analysis, snacking options available to college students are of poor nutritional quality and may contribute to the obesogenic environment common to college campuses; policies to address this issue are warranted.