Banner Health gives vending machines a makeover

Healthy Options program, offering customers at 14 Arizona hospitals healthier foods and smaller portions, is the first phase of a project that will include dining and catering.

PAYSON, Ariz. — Banner Health, the state's largest hospital system, is undergoing a massive revamping of the food it sells in vending machines and dining areas to promote good health.

Fourteen Arizona facilities will offer better food to thousands of employees and visitors as part of Banner's new Healthy Options program.

"It's much easier to keep people healthy than to get people healthy," said Joshua Fels, Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center director of culinary and nutrition services.

By offering food choices that are lower in calories, sodium and fat, Banner Health strives to prevent visitors and employees from becoming patients.

"By addressing prevention first, we try to make sure we keep people healthy," said Juan Gonzalez, Banner Health process director of care management.

The changes will also be introduced at Banner facilities in seven other states.

The changeover will incur only minimal costs, Gonzalez said.

Banner officials plan to keep track of revenue as a gauge to customer satisfaction, and don't plan to bring back unhealthy food.

"We have to do what's right, and manage accordingly," Gonzalez said.

Food is big business at Banner. Last year, dining checks averaging $4 each brought in $23 million in revenue, Fels said.

Banner Health's move to healthier food stems not just from the unhealthy medical consequences of obesity and a diet of high-fat, high-calorie foods, but also from consumers, who increasingly are voting with their wallets and choosing more nutritious food.

Of all places, Banner Health officials said, hospitals should offer food that is good for people. Food is an easy door into people's habits, said Pamela L'Heureux, Banner Baywood clinical nutritional manger culinary and nutrition.

"As industry leaders, this is what we need to do," L'Heureux said.

Vending changes

Banner Health culinary and nutrition experts collaborated with a Banner innovation team, officials said.

The state's second-largest employer, with more than 32,000 employees, is starting the massive food makeover with 280 vending machines, and the changes began this month.

At first glance, the new snack and drink machines don't look too different from the old. But in fact, 80 percent of the choices they offer are healthier, while the other 20 percent remain the same, L'Heureux said.

The healthier options are marked by stickers with a red heart in a green circle.

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