Resident Brings Healthier Vending Machines to Schools in San Antonio, Texas

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When Cecil Whisenton of San Antonio, Texas, transitioned his career from the restaurant industry to the installation of healthy vending machines, he learned of the tremendous burden of obesity across the country. So, in his work with HUMAN Healthy Vending—a Los-Angeles-based company that has franchisees working to place healthy vending machines across the country—Whisenton brought the machines to local YMCAs and a San Antonio high school. He hopes to bring the healthy vending machines to more schools in the future to give kids healthier snack and drink options earlier in life. He believes schools facing the pending changes under the USDA’s Smart Snacks standards can turn to companies like Human Vending to redesign the snacking for students.

EMERGENCE

One of the vending machines by H.u.m.a.n. Vending at South San. Source: Rick Carrillo.
One of the vending machines by H.u.m.a.n. Vending at South San. Source: Rick Carrillo.

Awareness: Cecil Whisenton of San Antonio, Texas, worked in food sales and preparation in the restaurant business for many years. He put this experience to use when he became a franchisee of HUMAN (Helping Unite Mankind and Nutrition) Healthy Vending, a Los-Angeles-based company that has franchisees working to place vending machines in community centers, offices, and schools throughout America, stocked with only healthy, nutritious food and drink options (defined by their own standards).

He believed San Antonio would be receptive to, and deserving of, healthier snack options.

“Living in San Antonio, and then travelling to other places like New York where everyone is walking and exercising, and hearing the media call San Antonio [or Texas] fat all the time,” Whisenton said. “It’s all really inspired me to get into this business.”

Learn: Whisenton was able to get HUMAN Healthy Vending machines into many locations of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Through his work with the YMCA, he said he had an “a-ha” moment about childhood obesity.

“I found out that our military was decreasing because there were so many people getting rejecting due to obesity and obesity-related illnesses. That’s when I saw the light, because that’s scary,” he said. “In the future our military will be significantly decreased or overweight, which is a big impact on the country.”

Frame Issue: Whisenton wanted to reach kids earlier with healthy options.

With the new USDA Smart Snacks in Schools standards to be implemented in all schools soon, he knew that the Human Healthy Vending machines could help make that transition easy for schools in San Antonio.

DEVELOPMENT

Water, low-fat milk, 100% Juice, and low-calorie sports drinks are a few of the options available to students. Source: Rick Carrillo.
Water, low-fat milk, 100% Juice, and low-calorie sports drinks are a few of the options available to students. Source: Rick Carrillo.

Education & Mobilization: Having gone to college in San Antonio, Whisenton knew South San Antonio High School (South San) principal Henry Yzaguirre from their time together as basketball teammates at St. Mary’s University.

Whisenton contacted Yzaguirre in September 2013 to meet with him about how Human Healthy Vending could improve the nutrition of snacks at South San.

South San did not have any vending machines, and had recently banned soda from campus.

Yzaguirre had Whisenton consult with the school nutritionist about what vending machine snack options the students may like, and how to adhere to the pending USDA guidelines for healthy snacks.

Because of Human Healthy Vending’s rigorous nutritional guidelines as a self-proclaimed healthy food service, choosing nutritious snacks was easy for Whisenton and South San’s nutritionist.

Debate: However, Yzaguirre was hesitant because he knew students don’t always want foods that are healthy.

“There was some hesitation at first because a lot of people say we have a different pallet here in the south; we want spicy and we want flavor,” Whisenton said. “But a lot of the healthy options have come a long way and taste really good.”

ENACTMENT

Activation: HUMAN Healthy Vending always includes their purchasing audience, in this case the students of South San, in what items will be stocked in their machines.

Whisenton and other Human Healthy Vending employees came to South San to do taste tests. They brought in a few different snacks and drinks each day to give to students. They also gave out free samples for students to take home.

Whisenton distributed surveys with free samples, and the students provided feedback on what they would consider buying and what foods would not appeal to them. From this feedback he was able to eliminate foods and drinks that students disliked, and would not purchase from the machines.

Frame Policy: After narrowing down items to meet both USDA nutrition standards and student tastes, Whisenton proposed to the school nutritionist a final list of items to stock in the vending machines at South San, so that they could be double-checked for USDA and school standards.

Change: Yzaguirre and the purchasing director at South San approved the list of items and the vending machine contract with HUMAN Healthy Vending in October 2013.

One of the vending machines filled with healthy options. Source: Rick Carrillo.
One of the vending machines filled with healthy options. Source: Rick Carrillo.

The refrigerated machines would offer these choices:

  • Apples
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Peaches
  • Fruit cups
  • Granola bars
  • Protein bars
  • Baked chips
  • Baked cheese puffs
  • Pita chips
  • Fiber bars
  • Fig bars
  • Apple sauce
  • Vitamin enhanced water
  • Low-calorie sports drinks
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Water

IMPLEMENTATION

Implementation: By late October 2013, Whisenton and the HUMAN Healthy Vending crew stocked and installed the vending machines. There were three machines installed in South San; two placed just outside the cafeteria and one in its sporting center.

Whisenton said the machines are popular.

In the five months between October 2013 and March 2014, South San has received almost $1,700 in commissions. The vending machines average about 170 vends per day, providing students with nutritious and convenient snacks.

He also hopes the message of healthy eating sticks with students outside school, too.

“What I’m most excited about is that, once the kids go home and are shopping in the grocery stores with their parents, they’ll notice some of the healthy options they see in our vending machines and they’ll ask their moms to pick up those items instead of the unhealthy snacks,” he said.

Equity: HUMAN Healthy Vending continues to monitor the success of the machines through an online portal that updates them on sales and the needed repairs.

When an item does not sell it is replaced with a different item or brand, keeping the machines up to date with students’ needs.

Sustainability: Now that there has been success in one school in San Antonio, Whisenton is looking to expand the reach of HUMAN Healthy Vending.

In 2014 he started giving presentations to San Antonio Independent School District’s (SAISD) Board of Education and Student Health Advisory Council about the machines. SAISD has recently ended their vending contracts and are looking to make a new one that will create healthy vending throughout the whole district. Whisenton will be submitting a proposal for the contract to continue to provide healthy, nutritious snacks to young people throughout San Antonio.

“This gives me a purpose and at the end of the day, I know I’m doing something that is helping the kids of San Antonio be healthier,” Whisenton said.

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program aims to educate researchers, decision-makers, community leaders, and the public in contributing toward healthier Latino communities and seeking environmental and policy solutions to the epidemic of Latino childhood obesity. The network is directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

For more information, visit http://www.salud-america.org.

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School Food

By The Numbers By The Numbers

74

percent

of Latino kids have had a sugary drink by age 2 (vs. 45% of white kids).

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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