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How Hard Is It to Resist Junk Food in Vending Machines?

The choices for vending machine customers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago were clearly marked. Select a snack loaded with calories, sodium, and trans fats, and wait 25 seconds to get it, or opt for something a little more healthy and munch on it right away. It seems that people really don't like to wait. The customers of these experimental machines chose the instant gratification -- and the healthier snacks -- 2 to 5 percent more often than usual. The results of the study, which were unveiled at the 2017 annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, could be significant if they were replicated in the 1.3 million vending machines in the United States -- described as the country’s “most prevalent source of high-calorie snacks” in a Rush press release.

Do you really want that candy bar?

  • The delivery delay was clearly communicated on the front of the machine. Customers knew they’d have to wait longer for unhealthy snacks.

  • The machines also featured a “delivery countdown,” allowing people to change their minds during the delay.

  • “It could be that people don't like waiting and will pick a quicker choice,” explains psychologist Marlene Schwartz, adding that the delay may have given people more time to consider healthier options.

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