August 28, 2017

Survey Finds Strong Support for Healthy Vending

A poll released today shows strong support in Howard County for legislation that would expand healthy food and drink choices in vending machines on government property.

The poll of more than 600 registered voters was conducted by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks between July 18-23, 2015 and found that 69 percent of voters favor adding healthy food and drink options to vending machines on public property, while only 29 percent are opposed.

“This 40-point margin is a resounding show of support by voters in Howard County who favor the County Council’s action to require healthier food and drinks be made available in County vending machines,” said Steve Raabe of OpinionWorks. “Support for this policy measure is robust across all political, racial, and ethnic categories.”

The poll reflects the first quantifiable assessment of voter support for Council Bill 17-2015, which was approved by a 4-1 vote of the County Council on July 6, 2015 and vetoed a week later. However, the public backing for CB17 reflected in this survey mirrors that seen at a public hearing in May in which hundreds of residents attended to ask Councilmembers to approve the measure, and the fact that more than 1,000 residents and 35 community organizations wrote letters of support. The County Council could decide to vote to override the veto at its legislative session on July 31.

“The results of this poll reflect what we’ve known for some time: Howard County residents support health and effective measures to promote it,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, President and CEO of the Horizon Foundation, sponsor of the poll. “Residents have been choosing healthier food and drink options for their home, and they clearly want those same options where they work and play, too.”

The Foundation and its community partners have promoted the measure as part of a broader effort to encourage healthy lifestyles in Howard County. With rising rates of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart diseases, educational campaigns coupled with expanded access to healthy food and drink options at childcare centers, schools, offices, and other places throughout the community constitute a comprehensive approach to improving health in Howard County.

A key focus of the education campaign is reducing sugary drink consumption, which is now recognized in scientific literature as a primary contributor to disease linked to poor nutrition. And the survey found widespread recognition of this link, with 85 percent of respondents saying that sugary drinks are a cause of diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases.

“Howard County has long been a leader in promoting public health, and it’s clear why: Residents support it,” said Highsmith Vernick. “We look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders across the community to ensure all residents have the support they need to live long, healthy lives.”

In March, the Foundation released a report showing that sugary drink sales in Howard County are declining at a rate that is two to three times the national average. Recent national news stories have highlighted skyrocketing consumer demand for seltzer water as a substitute for sugary drinks, as well as alarming statistics linking sugary drink consumption to more than 180,000 premature deaths each year.

For more details about the survey, read the poll memo prepared by OpinionWorks.