Vending machines within the staff lounge of Long Beach's main Public Library. Photo by Jason Ruiz.
A resolution that to re-established health guidelines for snacks sold in vending machines on Long Beach city property was passed Tuesday night, with a majority of the city council requesting that the scope of the policy include trans-fats and sattested fat guidelines.
Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson was the most vocal in his opposition to adopting the most recent version of a resolution, known as the “Long Beach Healthy Snack Food and Beverage Policy," stating that it should be vetted by members of the current council instead of adopting something proposed by members of the previous one.
“Traditionally, when a concept comes to city council, we like to see those things from start to finish,” Richardson said. “That means do the work in our communities that include folks like the Coalition for a Healthy North Long Beach, that has really been at the forefront of really determining and developing health policy in North Long Beach and citywide.”
Of the members currently serving on the city council, only Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal and Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrews had a hand in crafting the policy that was voted down Tuesday night. Richardson contended that the council should install guidelines pertaining to trans-fat and saturated fat, something that wasn't considered in the previous form of the resolution. Voting into action a resolution proposed by his predecessor, former Ninth District Councilman Steve Neal, and not taking into account the current body's input wouldn’t be respectful to the current body.
“Not only is it disrespectful, but it’s bad tact and not politically astute to step in on a motion like this that should be relatively a positive thing that should get relatively unanimous support of the city council,” Richardson said. “I would love to make our health policy stronger.”
Richardson’s stance led Austin to quip that now wasn’t the time to “get into ego trips.” Austin noted that him not being on the council in 2011 when the original resolution was instituted doesn't diminish his stance on raising the health standards for the community and the city as a whole.
However, the vice mayor seemed to agree with Richardson as she joined other members of the council in voting down the adoption by a 5-3 mark. Lowenthal, who sponsored the original motion, said there was still room for improvement with the city’s vending machine policies.
“Every time something comes to council we do have an opportunity to make it better and hopefully that’s what supporting it [Richardson’s motion to wait] will do, to make it better,”
The current form of the resolution would require 100 percent of beverages and snacks served at youth serving sites to meet USDA specified nutrition standards as well as requiring city-contracted vending machines, both available to the general public and city staff, to have at least half its snacks and all of its beverages meet the same health guidelines.
The resolution also stipulates that as of December 2016, all vending machines on city property display calorie content. However, some, including Richardson, feel the guidelines could be made stronger.
“While this is a step in the right direction, the American Heart Association is requesting that all food served in Long Beach vending machines meet 100 percent of the sodium and transfer nutritional standards recommended by the USDA dietary guidelines for Americans,” said Violet Ruiz, director of governmental relations at the American Heart Association. “Diets high in sodium and transfers are the leading contributors to heart disease and stroke.”
Ruiz wrote that more than half of adults and teens are considered to be overweight or obese, classifications that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. According to 2010 census numbers, 36 percent of the city’s residents were deemed overweight, 31 percent of whom were considered obese.
Tony Damico, a project co-coordinator with Long Beach Fresh, a group dedicated to expanding access to affordable nutritious food in the city, said he too favored a move that would consider a more encompassing motion to require all the snacks and drinks sold in city vending machines to meet the specified guidelines.
“As a local food system collaborative and active member of the California Food Policy Council, Long Beach Fresh believes that our local government plays a critical role in tipping the scale toward healthy living, especially with nine in 10 Americans eating too much sodium and, much of that sodium coming from packaged and processed foods,” said Damico. "I urge council to show a deeper commitment to preventing deadly illness by making health choice the standard in Long Beach.”
While the council ultimately voted to re-adopt the resolution, it also asked city staff to take a longer look at needed guidelines to increase the strength of it. Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrews, who voted in favor of the proposal, agreed with Austin on the point that community health was one of the foremost responsibilities the council is charged with.
“Your health is all you’ve got; once it’s gone it’s gone,” Andrews said. “You have to do what you can while you can to keep your body healthy. This is what we’re seeing this everyday. There’s no doubt that in our schools and walks of life, that diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight, these are things that we’re going to have to get ourselves more in line with. If we don’t, we’re just running the risk of losing a generation.”
[Editors note: A previous version of this story stated that the resolution was postponed while measures regarding trans-fat and sodium were adopted. the resolution passed while city staff explores ways to implement stronger measures on trams-fat and saturated fat..]