BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Sugar Free Kids Maryland announced its legislative agenda for 2017 on Thursday, with their top priority being a proposed bill that would require healthier options in vending machines on state property.
The coalition's main talking point was the Maryland Healthy Vending Choices Act, which would require 50 percent of the snacks in vending machines on public property to meet heart-healthy standards.
That means it would be a 50/50 split between healthy foods and junk foods in all vending machines in hospital, fire houses, government buildings, and other public property.
"We are not talking apples, bananas, carrots, celery," said Executive Director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, Shawn McIntosh. "We are talking about things that have the right amount of calories, sugar, salt and fat."
Under the new law, half of vending machines on state property would be low calorie, healthier foods.
"This legislation is so important because we are seeing strikingly high rates of diabetes in not only our general population, but specifically in young children," said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president & CEO of Horizon Foundation.
Opponents of the proposed bill say the government should stay out of the breakroom.
"We just don't think there's a role for government to be in everybody's lunchbox, everybody's break," said Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association.
Valentino told WJZ's Devin Bartolotta that some vending machines already display calorie counts, and that dictating what must be in machines could actually limit options.
"As an industry, we've put forth some very significant, serious solutions without government bans, without restrictions, without taxes," said Valentino.
This is the second try to get this bill passed. A different version failed last year, but supporters say they believe it will become law this legislative session.
Valentino also released the following statement:
"While we share similar goals with organizations aiming to reduce sugar consumption and obesity levels, consumers deserve real solutions, not new government regulations, bans and taxes. We can reduce obesity with industry and public health working together on solutions that will bring about true, lasting change."
"Beverage-makers are taking numerous actions to help consumers reduce their calories and sugar from beverages. We've been creating more low- and no-sugar options for consumers and smaller portion sizes. We have voluntarily placed clear calorie labels on the front of every bottle and can we sell. We are placing calorie awareness signs on vending machines, fountains and coolers throughout Maryland and the country to encourage people to check the calories before buying."
It was also announced Thursday that 1199 SEIU, a local chapter of the nation's largest healthcare union, will be one of six leading organizations of the 300-member Sugar Free Kids Maryland coalition.
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