OREM -- Like playing video games, texting or tweeting friends, getting snacks and meals from vending machines often is part of a young person's daily routine.
Now the great snack dilemma has infiltrated the halls and vending machines at Utah Valley University, and students, faculty and staff will become a part of an ongoing study that began Oct. 24 that's intended to help vending machine users pick wisely.
As a result of poor diet -- including eating from vending machines -- and rising obesity rates, the current generation's life expectancy has the potential to be shorter than their parents, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Student Jimmy Fuqua says that information is a driving force for the study at UVU.
The university community will notice changes to some of the machines on campus as public and community health students launch the "Navigate the Snack Debate" program.
The program has been developed through hands-on research by students and faculty of the public and community health department, and aims to determine whether people really care about nutritional values. Assistant professor Mary V. Brown and 12 students will be collecting information through November, and presenting their final data in the spring.
Using a traffic light theme, the project will have food items in five vending machines around campus marked with red, yellow or green stickers for approximately three weeks. Green items are the healthiest selections, lower in fat and calories. Yellow items have moderate fat and saturated fat content and may include foods with minimal nutritional value. Red items are the highest in fat, saturated fat and calories and should be limited in the diet.
"We're tracking items we've had to replace to see purchasing trends," said Fuqua, a senior in community health and health services.
Researchers hope quick tidbits of nutritional information will influence purchases.
Brown said they've already noticed a difference between male and female consumers.
"In a focus group of 25 students, we found that men wanted the most for their money, while women were more concerned about nutrients and food allergies," Brown said.
While Fuqua says he brings his lunch from home, he knows many working students who come to school straight from full-time jobs and purchase whole meals from the machines before evening classes.
"We know vending machine purchases are primarily for snacking, and most don't think of vending machines as healthy; however, we would like to give consumers more information to help allow them to make better decisions when it comes to what they eat," Brown said. "Vending machines are a simple way to start to make small changes."
Fuqua and Brown are hoping students at UVU are true to their school colors, and themselves, by sticking with the green stickers.