Chicago’s City Council has reportedly approved an ordinance that will impose new nutrition rules on most food and drinks sold from 350 vending machines in 94 city buildings, setting restrictions on fat, calories, sugar, and sodium. The new ordinance applies to vending machines in city-owned and -leased buildings and takes effect January 2013. In a recent press release, Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said that the changes aim to encourage personal responsibility. “These new vending machines will make it easier than ever before for city employees and the public to make healthy lifestyle choices,” he said. “When city employees take their wellness into their own hands, we can reduce health care costs and also serve as a model for the residents of Chicago when it comes to making health choices.”

Many health advocates have purportedly said that it makes sense to set standards for machines aimed at children and at city workers whose health care is paid for with taxpayer dollars. But some said the new standards do not go far enough. Although most offerings would need to meet health guidelines, 25 percent of each machine could be stocked with sugary drinks or any kind of snack, regardless of nutrition. “It’s not appropriate to be selling a harmful product on city property with obesity, diabetes and stroke being such enormous problems in our communities,” Center for Science in the Public Interest Executive Director Michael Jacobson was quoted as saying. “We need to be more active in reducing consumption of this major cause of these problems.”

Meanwhile, opponents of the new vending machine rules have apparently deemed them overreaching. According to news sources, Cherylyn Harley LeBon, co-chair of Project 21, which is affiliated with the National Center for Public Policy Research, recently said, “We live in a free-market society, not North Korea. … Adults are capable of making their own decision, and I think it’s a problem when the mayor thinks he can define for us what is junk and healthy food.”

Chicago Public Schools reportedly improved its food offerings in vending machines a few years ago, but last month the district approved even tighter standards for all food sold outside the cafeteria. Those include limits on fat and sugar in foods and the elimination of all drinks except low-fat milk, juice and water; sports drinks will apparently be restricted to student athletes doing vigorous activity for at least one hour.

A recent Chicago Tribune article notes that Chicago Public Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair, who testified in favor of a failed municipal soda tax earlier this year, has said that he believes the city is striking a moderate tone by setting rules yet allowing sales of some less-healthy options. “It’s OK to have a treat once in a while,” Choucair reportedly said, “But at the end of the day, we are emphasizing for city residents that it’s important to make the healthy choice most of the time.” He also observed that the new rules restrict high-calorie drinks to 12 ounces and require healthier items to be placed at eye level and priced competitively with less healthy items. See Chicago Tribune, December 13, 2012.