Wise vending choices a key part of good health

Editor’s note: This is the third of eight consecutive installments detailing the Healthy Lifestyle Journal: Community Wellness Challenge 2013.

MARQUETTE – “Making the healthy choice the easy choice.” That’s the motto for the 2013 Healthy Lifestyle Journal Community Wellness Challenge. And it seems some local businesses and schools are jumping on board with the goal of making the decision to eat healthy, simple.

Healthy vending, meaning providing food options such as fruit, yogurt and granola bars to employees and students, is a fairly new concept according to Michele Boehmer, a registered dietitian with Marquette General Hospital.

“It’s about feeding people what they need, not what they want,” Boehmer said.

According to her, refrigerators and shelves full of healthier options started making an appearance in September in the Sixth Floor Gym and the Third Floor Gym of MGH. Food options include fresh fruit, various health bars and chips that contain higher fiber levels.

“It’s all about tweaking things so they have a healthier twist,” Boehmer noted.

Another organization adding a healthy “twist” to their food choices is Cliffs Natural Resources. Cliffs recently put together a team of staff members that are participating in the Healthy Lifestyle challenge.

“At the mine there is no option for a cafeteria, so if people forget their lunches their only option was to get a candy bar and chips from the machine,” said Sara Beckman, an occupational health nurse at Cliffs Natural Resources.

She said there are three refrigerators located in the pit area, the Empire Plant and the Tilden Plant and each are stocked with milk, fruit, string cheese, yogurts and juice. Beckman said the healthy options have been well received.

“Employees are requesting more items and letting us know when things are running out.”

A third group incorporating some healthy options is the Westwood High School Booster Club, which recently began adding fruit, granola bars and chocolate milk to the list of choices at concession stands at school sporting events. The program started three months ago and has been gradually expanding.

“People can make the right choice easily,” Boehmer emphasized. “It’s easier than buying junk food… if it’s readily available, people will eat it.”

Boehmer said healthy vending is something that is taking over by storm not just in the Marquette area, but across the country. She added that while on a trip to New York City last April, it was common to see fruit and vegetable carts on many sidewalks.

When asked her opinion on unhealthy snacking, Boehmer said she believes it is a “cultural” problem.

“You get into those habit-forming things, like grabbing food from the vending machines and drinking pop and those bad habits develop… but if you can change those habits and that culture and move toward a different direction, I think that it will just keep expanding and more and more people will want to jump on board.”

Aside from being a dietitian at MGH, Boehmer has also been the wellness coach at Econo Foods for more than a year. At Econo, Boehmer offers one-on-one consultations with employees not just about nutrition, but also about exercising and personal health.

“I’m there telling them ‘you can do this!’ and that’s what you need. A consistent motivator,” Boehmer said.

Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.