i-Three Issue Corps – Employee buy-in leads to healthier vending machines

My iThree Corps project is Rethink Your Drink, an evidence-based program designed to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake. The program includes both an educational component and environmental change strategies, since research shows that addressing multiple levels of influence increases program effectiveness. (Check out the Social Ecological Model!) So instead of simply educating people to drink less SSBs, we also change the environment to make it easy to do so.

infused water
Infused water is a healthy alternative to SSBs!

The educational component is pretty straightforward and easy to accomplish. I teach the Rethink Your Drink lesson to children and adults through my community partners. But the environmental component has been more challenging, so I wanted to share what I’ve learned throughout my efforts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends several organizational, community, and public policy level strategies to decrease SSBs, such as ensuring ready access to potable drinking water and limiting access to SSBs. The strategy that I decided to focus on is promoting access to and consumption of more healthful alternatives to SSBs through improving drinks offered in vending machines.

Luckily, I found a great community partner to team up with. I mentioned the project to coordinator of the county wellness program and she was interested in improving vending machines in the county offices. It fits well with the goals of her wellness program. So, together we started working on our vending machine project!

While I was working on my project, I got some valuable advice at the National eXtension Conference as a part of the i-Three Corps track. One of the key informants with expertise in community development discussed different levels of community buy-in necessary for implementing change. This was a great reminder to get input from employees (or a committee representing the employees) before implementing changes to the vending machines.

We decided to bring the project to the county wellness committee in order to get employee input. The committee felt that a gradual approach to changing the vending machines would go over best with the employees. So, we decided to leave some SSBs in the machine but replace most of them with healthier beverages. One of the committee members offered to contact Pepsi and Coke to find out what our options were for healthier beverages.

The project really took off from there. At our next meeting, committee members shared their findings: lists of vending machine options from Pepsi and Coke, a list of beverage options that meet the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) standards, and information about specific drinks to consider. NANA recommends holding taste tests and having employees vote for their favorite options to increase employee buy-in. With an employee appreciation picnic coming up, we decided that this was the perfect time to taste-test healthy options. The wellness coordinator also sent out a survey to all county employees to get their input on types of drinks they would like. The results are in, and the new vending machine options should be available next month!