Forced delays at vending machines make for healthier snacking, claims study

Researchers fitted out vending machines that enforced a time delay on high-calorie snacks

Forced delays at vending machines make for healthier snacking, claims study


Forcing customers to wait an additional amount of time for access to high-calorie foods at a vending machine can push them to chose healthier snacks, a new study claims.

Experts in preventative medicine at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Centre created a new vending machine interface to examine whether introducing a 25-second penalty on less healthy food items would lead to consumers picking the healthier and faster option.

Those who would prefer to wait before getting their hands on the high-calorie food must watch as a 25-second countdown display on a LED screen before the vending machine released their purchase.

According to the research, the team did obverse some changes in the snacking habits of people using the vending machine. But the delay only saw a 2-5% increase in the proportion of sales of healthier foods than before the delay was introduced.

Delaying gratification

“Having to wait for something makes it less desirable,” said Brad Appelhans, a clinical psychologist at the Rush University Prevention Centre and lead investigator of the study. “Research shows that humans strongly prefer immediate gratification, and this preference influences choices and behaviour in daily life.”

According to the study, vending machines are the most popular source of high-calorie snack foods in the United States, where there are 1.3m machines operating nationwide.

Research has shown that the most efficient way to improve snacking amongst adults is to completely restrict high-calorie foods from the selection. But this option also reduces the machine’s profits, which are relied upon by the organisation housing it.

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