When Jenna Stitzel realized nearly 40 percent of students in Rutherford County Schools are overweight or obese, she knew something needed to change.
This is higher than the national average of 17 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As supervisor for Rutherford County Schools’ Coordinated School Health program, Stitzel has already found ways to increase physical activity for students, but something was missing – healthy snacking options.
After some research, Stitzel found Fresh Healthy Vending, a company that she says, “really cares about the health of our students.” As it so happens, Fresh Healthy Vending was also offering a grant program that would supply two lucky winners with a free healthy vending machine.
She submitted Rutherford County Schools into the contest to make positive, healthy changes for the students - and won.
“Our vending machines are full of high fat, high calorie, processed foods,” Stitzel said. “It’s difficult to move healthy options in because the machines are money-makers for the schools. If one of the healthy machines performed well in a high school, then we believe there would be a domino effect in the remaining schools.”
The 2012 online contest was in partnership with Healthy Child Healthy World, a national leader for nearly two decades in empowering parents to protect children from chemicals.
“We are so excited to work with Fresh Healthy Vending, a company that shares our values and has made some major strides in improving access to healthier snacks and drinks at schools nationwide,” said Gigi Lee Chang, chief executive officer of Healthy Child Healthy World. “It is core to our mission to help educate families on how their food choices can affect their health, and this contest really resonated with our audience.”
More than 30 percent of children’s nutrition comes from snacking, and Fresh Healthy Vending machines help them make the healthier choice 30 percent more often, says Dan Negroni, CEO of Fresh Healthy Vending.
“A healthy, well-balanced diet is a crucial component for a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
“By offering students healthier snack options, they have the choice to eat healthy, natural snacks and beverages, as opposed to the traditional vending machine junk food of sugary snacks and drinks, as they had previously,” he said. “By improving access to healthier snacks and providing education regarding food choices and health, we believe that Fresh Healthy Vending is the first step in promoting healthier lifestyles in schools.”
Currently, eight Rutherford County Schools have a total of 10 machines, including Siegel Middle, Central Magnet, Whitworth-Buchanan Middle, Thurman Francis, Rock Springs Middle and Christiana Middle. Stewart’s Creek and Oakland Middle both have two machines each.
Each vending machine offers a variety of healthy options, including fresh 100 percent juices, yogurts, smoothies, organic milks, iced teas, nuts, dried fruits, veggies, cookies and bars.
Stitzel says the schools individually determine the selections in their own machines.
“Students want to eat healthy options, but it has to be easy for them,” she said. “All they had before were the unhealthy options – traditional vending machine options.”
Negroni said he has discovered similar evidence that students enjoy and appreciate the healthy options.
“Teaching kids the importance of eating healthfully and prompting them to make more nutritious food choices is something we believe is critical, especially considering the rise of child obesity,” he said.
With healthy vending machines in only one high school and several middle schools, Stitzel said he hopes the students will become accustomed to the new options and request them as they enter high school.
Machines haven’t been in schools long, so there isn’t much feedback to offer, but she did say workers were already refilling the machine at Whitworth-Buchanan.
This is good news, as Stitzel aims to eventually replace all of the traditional vending machines with healthy ones throughout the entire school system.