Can 25 Seconds Make A Healthy Difference?

The Lempert Report
May 09, 2017

Does every second you spend waiting for a snack make you want it less? The creator of a new vending machine thinks so...

Brad Appelhans, an associate professor of preventative medicine at Rush University Medical Center thinks so. He has designed an add on to vending machines that decides which products are released immediately and which forces the buyer to wait 25 seconds. Healthy foods you get instantly. Less than healthy – those you’ll have to wait for. While 25 seconds may not seem a long time to wait his premise is that “every second you spend waiting for a snack will make you want it less.” He just released his study at this year’s Society of Behavioral Medicine 

It’s called DISC, or "Delays to Influence Snack Choice," and the device is a platform inserted inside a vending machine that catches snacks falling from the top half of the machine (where the unhealthy snacks are placed) on the front of the vending machine, a sign tells customers they'll have to wait for an extra 25 seconds for less-healthy snacks. The healthy snacks are positioned in the lower half and do not fall on the 25 second delay platform. 

The "healthy," snacks had to meet criteria, such as packing fewer than 250 calories, 350 mg of sodium or 10 mg of added sugars per serving, containing no trans fats or getting less than 35 percent of their calories from fat.   

His research was conducted over several months where he tested different price points and top line people started going for more healthy snacks, he reported that when the delay was implemented "we saw a roughly 5 percent change in the proportion of healthy snacks" sales, he goes on to say that that was roughly the same increase in sales as what he saw when he lowered the price of healthy snacks by 25 cents in the vending machines – with no time delay on unhealthy snacks.  

While the controversy over soda and sugar taxes continues, this could be a viable alternative without the political nightmare. Appelhans adds that "Unlike the discount (or reverse tax if you will – my words), the delays didn't harm the overall revenues of the machine. Places want people to have more nutrition, but they don't want to lose revenue. So the time delay might be a nice way to have it both ways." 

Just imagine an express lane for healthier foods only….