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VA Hospital Vending Machines Fail Healthy Food Recs.

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Cynthia Patton

Wendy Zellner
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PITTSBURGH – Food and beverages in vending machines at Veterans Affairs hospitals strongly conflict with government-provided nutritional recommendations, according to new research from the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and recently published in the journal Nutrition.


Colin Champ releaseLed by UPMC radiation oncologist Colin E. Champ, M.D., assistant professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the study focuses on nutrition and exercise relating to cancer treatment and prevention. Concerned about increasing obesity rates, which have been linked to a significant proportion of cancer diagnoses, the researchers examined the number of vending machines, their contents and locations at all VA-run inpatient and outpatient facilities. 


“Since the VA Hospital System is a government-funded organization, they were required to provide us with the information we needed for this study, “said Champ. “But we also know that most, if not all, hospital and medical facilities have vending machines that sell these foods on their grounds and that’s sending a mixed message to patients about nutrition and health.”


The study examined food and beverages offered in 2,844 vending machines at the 172 VA Hospital facilities throughout the United States, including Puerto Rico. The study found that of the beverages supplied, 49 percent contained more than 55 grams of sugar, or more than 10 percent of daily calories in added sugar in a single serving. The 65 available food items were composed of: 28 percent candy, 14 percent potato chips/puffed corn snacks, 11 percent pastries/frosted baked goods, 11 percent crackers/pretzels, 8 percent nuts/trail mix, and the remainder was jerky, pork rinds, gum and popcorn. Nuts/trail mix and granola are the only items meeting nutritional guidelines.


“The 2015-2020 U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines recommend avoiding sugary beverages, candy, cookies and other sources of simple and refined carbohydrates that provide little to no nutritional value,” said Champ. “For those of us counseling our patients on a healthy diet and lifestyle, all of our efforts get derailed when the foods we say to avoid are easily available in our own hospitals.”


Champ treats all cancers with a special research interest in the treatment of breast cancer and clinical nutrition and exercise relating to cancer treatment and prevention. He is dually board-certified in radiation oncology and integrative medicine. 


Other authors include Nick Iarrobino, medical student at the Pitt School of Medicine, and Christopher Haskins, M.D., a radiation oncology resident at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.


Caption: Colin E. Champ, M.D.

Credit: UPMC

(Click image for high-res version)