4:47pm

Wed August 31, 2011
The Commonwealth

Healthy Snacking at Kentucky Rest Stops

Frankfort - Travelers on Kentucky’s highways will now be reminded of healthy snack choices they can make at the state’s rest areas and welcome centers. The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Wednesday announced the “Kentucky Healthier Highways Partnership.”

The initiative is a collaborative effort of the Office for the Blind, the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the Transportation Cabinet, the Kentucky Alliance of YMCA’s and the Humana Foundation aiming to improve the food choices of those traveling on Kentucky’s roads.

“Kentucky is the first state in the nation to promote healthier options at state-operated vending sites,” Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Joseph U. Meyer said in a press release. “We hope to serve as a model to the rest of the country.”

As its first effort, Healthier Highways is placing the YMCA’s “Food Fight” posters in every vending site at 23 rest areas and welcome centers across the Commonwealth. These posters highlight healthy food choices at the moment when people are about to make a purchase decision. The messaging on the posters will change seasonally.

Research has shown that these reminders are the best way to help people make decisions that support a healthy lifestyle without restricting their options. Healthier choice snacks currently make up 25 percent of the offerings in vending machines operated by the OFB’s Blind Vendors Program.

The Blind Vendors program, operated through OFB’s Kentucky Business Enterprises, is one of the leading vending and food service programs in the United States operated by people who are blind. The program trains and certifies individuals as self-employed operators of snack bars, cafeterias and automated vending machines in public and private facilities across Kentucky. The program currently serves 54 vendors.

Kentucky’s rest areas and welcome centers are operated through a state agency partnership among the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the Transportation Cabinet and the Blind Vendors program.

This group was approached by the Kentucky Alliance of YMCA’s to seek out innovative ways to work together to fight the epidemic of obesity, particularly childhood obesity, in Kentucky.

Kentucky has the seventh highest rate of obesity in the country and the fourth highest rate of childhood obesity. According to the Kentucky Alliance of YMCAs, this costs Kentucky more than a billion dollars in health care expenditures each year, which does not count lost productivity or personal costs to those affected by diabetes, heart problems or high blood pressure.

“Reversing this trend is going to require changes to the environment to facilitate healthier living,” Ben Reno-Weber, executive director of the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association, said. “It is going to require new ways of thinking about how people make health choices. And it is going to require changes in people's attitudes about food and exercise.”

Based on traffic count, the Transportation Cabinet estimates that there are about 30 million travelers annually that enter the rest areas and welcome centers.

“This initiative provides a great opportunity to get a positive message out to literally millions of people about the benefits of making healthy choices,” Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Marcheta Sparrow said.

This is the first step of the Healthier Highways campaign, underwritten by the Humana Foundation. As the partnership awaits new guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, it looks to take further steps to promote healthy living across the state. More information on healthy food choices is available at yfoodfight.com.