Talking vending machine stunt part of healthy push

AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – Imagine finding yourself face-to-face with a talking vending machine, berating the junk food you’re attempting to purchase, telling you how to check the nutrition labels, and ordering you to do calisthenics for buying one of the items on display.

That is what happened to 40 students recently at the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst. The Independent Health Foundation “pranked” them — but in a good way — producing a series of videos promoting healthy living featuring half of those students.

The machine “told” one student about the selection of junk food on display.

“You are better than this, my friend. You are better than everything in here!” the voice of the machine said. “There isn’t anything healthy in this machine.”

The Independent Health Foundation calls the program “Healthy Options”, and they have promoting it for 10 years. For the prank at U.B.’s Knox Lecture Hall, Executive Director Carrie Meyer said the foundation hired a Buffalo advertising agency, which planted hidden cameras and microphones inside and outside the vending machine.

“We would catch all the students off-guard of what they were doing and it was a lot of fun. The students really took part, they had a positive experience, and it was hilarious,” Meyer said.

The voice of the vending machine was that of a local comedian. Meyer said the foundation produced three videos, each one taking on a different subject such as nutrition, the amount of exercise needed to balance out excess calories and fat, and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Students buying junk food from the machine were subject to demands such as jogging in place, push-ups, dancing and running in place.

Meyer says that is part of a holistic approach to good health.

STORY | Students get more than a snack from their vending machine. 

“When you choose and eat for two minutes–that one candy bar–you are talking about 20 minutes of exercising to send out, so that you have a correct balance,” Meyer said.

But how likely are college students to pay attention to healthy foods when they are usually in a hurry?

“They certainly love their pizza and wings, especially here in Buffalo,” Ray Kohl, the marketing manager for U.B.’s cafeterias and food truck, said.

Kohl said U.B.’s diverse student population is always looking for something to fit their individual needs.

“Could be anything from the students that are looking for high carbohydrate and high protein diets, to students that are just looking to eat healthier, and more vegetarian options and salads,” Kohl said. “We really try to fit that need for everybody.”

Meyer agreed, saying the point behind the Healthy Options program is showing people you can choose a healthy food, consume it and feel full and satisfied while enjoying the taste.

The voice of the vending machine also tried to drive that point home.

“We’ve had some special time together. Do me a favor and pack an apple, tomorrow, will you?” the machine said.

The Independent Health Foundation has made three videos — two of which were released Monday, the third comes out on Tuesday.

SUNY officials say they will share the three videos at all 64 SUNY campuses, statewide, on Tuesday. Meyer said the first two videos had already registered more than 60,000 views by Monday afternoon. You can watch the second video below.

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