It is relatively easy to grab a bite to eat at most college campuses, but it is next to impossible to find healthy snacks. While there might be multiple dining halls, students always have close access to fast food restaurants and plenty of vending machines with less than healthy snack options.
A vending machine can be a one-stop shop to curb hunger or thirst with a variety of choices. Montclair State University has vending machines in almost every building. These machines are stocked with potato chips, cheese-dusted crackers and a variety of candy bars among other snacks.
It is no secret that college students have a hard time eating healthy. According to a study conducted by the American College Health Association, only 7.3 percent of college students consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which is five or more servings a day.
The difficulty with having so many vending machines around campus is the accessibility of unhealthy snacks. Students are constantly on the go from class to class, attending club meetings, playing sports and holding down part-time jobs so the decision to satiate hunger with whatever is available at the moment is understandable and very common with a busy lifestyle.
According to the Montclair State website, there are over 100 vending machines around campus. However, only two contain a selection of healthy choices, like dried edamame, KIND Bars, dried fruit and vegetable chips. Both of these machines are located within the Student Center and the School of Nursing.
While it might seem that these two locations are arbitrary and neglect other buildings on campus, the manager of Dining Services James Robinson was able to provide reasoning for this.
“Those two locations are where a very sizable number of students, commuters and residents congregate and dine,” Robinson wrote in an email.
Even though many students use these buildings to hang out, there are still multiple vending machines stocked with unhealthy snacks to accompany them.
Robinson mentioned that this had to do with factual data that determines what snacks circulate in the school’s vending machines, rather than what is requested.
“The data tells us which products are sold over others,” Robinson said.“We remove items that are not moving versus products that the customers are demanding [to] be available.”
Thus, the lack of healthy snacks in the vending machines at Montclair State stems from a lack of demand from students and faculty. Regardless of the data, Robinson mentioned that plenty of students would appreciate healthier options at campus vending machines, like senior dietetics major Victoria Vasquez.
“The only vending machine I’ll go to when I forget to bring a snack with me to campus is the one on the first floor of the Student Center,” Vasquez said. “It has some healthier options when compared to the other vending machines.”
According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology, there are multiple factors that influence a college student’s ability to stay healthy. Factors like self-discipline, values, genetics and stress are harder to control. However, time and availability are contributors that Montclair State can play a role in addressing.
“On a campus like ours, there are so many diverse food venues that the first choice for the majority of our students is to find food in one of our dining venues or C-Stores [convenience store], rather than a vending machine,” Robinson said. “It’s truly out of convenience that customers decide to purchase something from a vending machine.”
However, the convenience and easy accessibility of the snacks is the issue with the vending machines. When students are pressed for time and the majority of the snacks available to them are unhealthy, it is unlikely that they will make sure that the snacks they are buying are healthy.
Vasquez is in the nutrition and food science department so it is not surprising that she would encourage more mindful options throughout Montclair State. However, other students do not feel as strongly as Vasquez.
Undeclared sophomore Hannah Szwed said that although she does not use vending machines, healthier snack choices would be more beneficial considering most college campus meal choices are unhealthy as it is.
However, Robinson does not think that healthier food choices will alter a consumer’s decision when purchasing a snack.
“I totally agree that time and availability are factors in making a food decision,” Robinson said. “I don’t believe having a specific product line available in a vending machine steers a customer to eating healthy or not.“
Montclair State should still offer the traditionally unhealthy snacks, but students have expressed interest in there being more variety in the vending machines, including junior business major Paige Elkoviscs.
“I guess I care,” Elkoviscs said. “I think there should be half unhealthy and half healthy snacks at the vending machines. For people who want to eat [healthy], there are snacks that are there for them so they can.”
However, there is a demand by some students to have healthier choices.
“It makes me feel better that other students want healthy snacks,” Vasquez said. “It shows that it is a prevalent concern throughout campus.”