New Calorie-Displaying Soda Vending Machines: 5 Reasons Why They Won't Significantly Aid America's Obesity

There's just no getting around it: Americans have a love affair with soft drinks. Dr Pepper, Sprite, Coke, Pepsi, Fanta -- you name it, we love it. It's a soft drink love fest -- until we remember all the calories that soft drinks contain, and the fact that those sugar- and calorie-filled beverages play a nice little part in the high obesity levels across the country.

Doing what looks like a little damage control, soft drink makers such as The Coca-Cola company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo will be rolling out a new program next year called "Calories Count®," which "will provide clear calorie information on vending machines, encourage lower-calorie beverage choices and remind consumers that 'calories count' in all the choices they make," according to a beverage industry trade association press release distributed yesterday.

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The new initiative will "increase availability of lower-calorie beverages in vending machines; display messages such as 'Check then Choose' and 'Try a Low-Calorie Beverage'; and add calorie labels to the selection buttons...to show calorie counts per beverage container."

Launching in municipal office buildings in San Antonio and Chicago beginning in 2013, the program will eventually be implemented nationwide.

All of that sounds fine and dandy, but will these machines really make a difference? Here are five reasons why, despite good intentions, we doubt the Calories Count® machines will do much to change America's obesity levels:

5. Help! I'm addicted to soft drinks Many people's love for soft drinks is on a whole different level -- canned and bottled soft drinks aren't just one of life's simple pleasures, they are an addiction. And you know what addiction means? That people will go to any extreme to obtain a soft drink in order to get their fix. This means that nothing, especially a vending machine's labels or contents, will stop them from obtaining and drinking their favorite sweet carbonated beverages.

4. What does 150 calories mean, anyway? What's a calorie? How many calories should I be consuming? How many calories is too many? A lot of people don't know the answer to these questions. So, even if vending machines are slapped with how many calories are in each soft drink can, it won't make a difference to those not schooled in the health pyramid, along with what healthy caloric intake is.

3. Soft drinks are just one part of the obesity problem It's great for beverage companies to attempt to aid the fight against obesity. But they are not the sole reason that obesity exists. There are a multitude of other areas that need to be addressed in order to combat obesity: overeating, lack of exercise, prevalence of processed and fast foods in people's diets, to name just a few. It would take efforts that hit on all of these points and more to really put a dent in obesity statistics.

2. Brand loyalty > caloric intake concerns It would be silly to even try to argue that we are not slaves to marketing tactics, which in turn have produced within us certain brand loyalties that are extremely difficult to change. I think that brand loyalty will play a big role in downplaying the positive effects that lower-calorie drink options in the new vending machines could have. I mean, really, what will you want to reach for -- your usual Dr Pepper or Fanta, or a "Doctor Spice" or "Fat-away"? Sure, the last two theoretical drinks will have lower calories, but who cares? Chances are you'll be reaching for the products whose brands you know and love, no matter how many calories are in them.

1. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink No matter how many efforts government organizations, trade associations and public health groups make to provide Americans with healthier drinking and dining options and to put into place policies that will encourage a healthier U.S.A., it will be really hard to require consumers to make the correct, healthy choices. Everything comes down to personal lifestyle decisions, which people will continue to make as they please, with calorie-displaying vending machines or without.

I very much doubt that calorie-displaying soda machines will play a big role in curbing America's love affair with soft drinks. While Americans generally realize that drinking all those calories is bad for our health, off-the-chart soft drink consumption won't be ending anytime soon. After all, half the fun in an affair is knowing that you've been a bad, bad boy.

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