Guest Column

Michigan business leaders must lead on public health

January 31, 2020
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The new year is upon us, and millions of Michiganders are resolving to live healthier lives. Not only are Michigan’s gyms busier now than several weeks ago, but our state’s residents also are making better nutritional choices at home and at work.

Unfortunately, we have a long way to go until Michigan’s health outcomes see meaningful improvement. According to a recent Health Check report, two-thirds of Michigan residents are overweight or obese, leading to increased health risks and higher health care costs. In fact, the prevalence of obesity in our state ranks 10th in the entire country.

Of course, we are not alone. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, it is estimated that, by 2030, roughly half of all U.S. adults will be obese. One-quarter of Americans will be “severely” obese, making them more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease and other negative health outcomes.

What this tells us is that we need to take public health more seriously than ever before. Millions of us are in fact putting in the effort to live healthier lives, but we must do even more to reverse the troubling health trends of recent decades. Individual action is commendable, but American society overall needs to band together for real, lasting change.

Addressing obesity and other health issues will require a collective effort — from public health officials and school administrators to small business owners. In this fight, the business community can play an important role. Given the number of resources at our disposal and the number of communities we already impact, business leaders can send a strong message to all Americans that we are ready to help them improve their lifestyles.

This is especially true for the convenience services industry. More likely than not, you’ve used a vending machine recently in search of a tasty snack or a refreshing beverage. And you’re not alone: The United States is home to nearly four million vending machines, serving 40 million Americans on a daily basis — at work and otherwise. The companies that operate them, primarily small businesses like mine, find themselves at the forefront of new and emerging nutritional trends because they are tasked with satisfying consumers.

That’s why our industry has committed itself to expanding “better for you” options in vending machines. Over the next three years, vending operators will increase the percentage of healthier options to one-third of all offerings — a 40% jump from current levels. Moreover, we will educate our customers about the benefits of “better for you” options, so that they are better equipped to make the right decisions.

Our third-generation company, All Star Services, serves hundreds of thousands of people each year through our 2,000 vending machines across 32 counties in Michigan. We hear firsthand from consumers asking for healthier choices, and those products are selling at a faster pace. Even better, more suppliers are making better-tasting, healthier products, giving us even more options to offer our customers.

From a business perspective, promoting healthy living makes sense. After all, more Americans are dieting than ever before, recognizing the need to change daily habits to improve their overall lifestyles. The millennial generation is perhaps America’s most health-conscious, making it all the more important for us to satisfy their demand in the decades to come.

Promoting healthy living transcends the bottom line. It is simply the right thing to do. As Michiganders make the right choices for the sake of self-improvement, businesses like ours should help make those choices just a little bit easier.

Business leaders already lead in so many ways — from private investment and nonprofit giving to job creation and employee empowerment. Let’s add public health to the list and make a real difference in 2020.

We are in this fight together — in Michigan and across the country.

Jeff Smith is the CEO, and Duncan Smith is COO of All Star Services, a third-generation vending operator based in Port Huron.

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