Hampton Native now Entrepreneur Promoting Healthy Eating for Kids
By Liz Premo
Hampton Union, Friday, December 30, 2011
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
HAMPTON -- It is no secret that childhood obesity and its associated risk factors have become a great cause for concern across the United States in recent years, but self-described social entrepreneur and advocate for healthy living Andy Mackensen wants to change all that.
"Obesity is getting out of control," said Mackensen, who grew up in Hampton and is cofounder with Sean Kelly of the California-based company HUMAN Healthy Vending. "It's an epidemic that we're out to solve."
HUMAN, which stands for Helping Unite Mankind And Nutrition, is the official name of a line of vending machines that strives to make healthy food items accessible in places such as hospitals, gymnasiums and community centers.
The machines — which are touted as being both eco-friendly and energy efficient — can also be found in perhaps one of the biggest battlegrounds in fight against obesity: schools.
"We need to start where problem is — in schools," Mackensen said. "We want to get healthy products and education in the kids' minds and hands early so they know how to eat right."
According to the latest figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past three decades.
The most recent CDC statistics indicate that the percentage of American children age 6-11 that are considered obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008.
The percentage for obese adolescents ages 12-19 increased from 5 percent to 18 percent within the same time frame.
Overall, the CDC estimates that as of 2008, one-third of children and adolescents were considered either overweight or obese.
With about 1,000 vending machines already being utilized in 38 states, Canada and Puerto Rico, HUMAN Healthy Vending now is popping up in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire as well.
"We signed a contract with Sacred Heart School, Winnacunnet High School, Newmarket and Portsmouth High Schools," Mackensen said.
The machines provide nutritional information using high-definition LCD screens that display streaming video atop each unit. The food items dispensed have been screened and approved by health experts.
Depending upon the specific model, the machines can dispense fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy snack foods such as granola bars and pita chips, chilled foods and beverages, and frozen meals that can be heated within the machine.
The units have remote sensors that automatically provide HUMAN Healthy Vending's operator partners with information regarding inventory and expiration dates. The machines accept debit and credit cards as well as cash and other payment methods.
According to Mackensen, his company's next vending machine will have an interface that allows a student to use a rechargeable card to make their purchases.
"Parents can log in from home and monitor what their kids are snacking on," Mackensen said. "They can have confidence that their $2 is going to healthy snacks and not (candy) bars."
HUMAN Healthy Vending, which donates 10 percent of its proceeds to charitable causes dedicated to fighting childhood obesity and malnutrition, also supports the efforts of the 'nPLAY Foundation.
'nPLAY financially assists education and activity programs in low-income areas with the highest rates of childhood obesity.
Backed by a coalition of professional athletes, including board member Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics, 'nPLAY "gets kids to move and play," said Mackensen, noting it completes the triad of healthy eating, education and exercise.
Entrepreneurship runs in the family and comes naturally to Mackensen, who is the son of local businessman Warren Mackensen and his wife, Pat, of Hampton.
"Andy likes challenging things — things to sink his teeth into," said Pat. "It takes a lot of risk to start up a company, a lot of blood, sweat and tears. As an entrepreneur you have to like doing that."
A graduate of Sacred Heart School in Hampton and St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover, his venture into the business world began early as a deejay working dances during his junior high and high school years.
In addition, "I had a lawn business, aptly named Andy's Lawn Service, (and) I did a snow blowing service during the winter — Andy's Snow Blowing Service," Mackensen said.
"I've since learned marketing," he joked.
Indeed, Mackensen went on to earn a bachelor's degree in business administration from Boston University and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in California. A five-year haul in the U.S. Navy had him serving in the Middle East as an officer and fast boat commander during the war in Iraq.
"After the Navy is when I started really thinking hard about becoming a full-time entrepreneur," he said, adding that Stanford was "where I formulated my desire (and) made the decision to go after it."
He explored his options, meeting with various start-ups and making business connections that were generated through conversations with people he knew.
Between learning of the development of a high-tech machine that could actually cook the food it vended and hearing that a friend of a friend was looking to offer healthy choices, "the light bulb went on," he said. "I checked out the device; it was really cool."
Mackensen teamed up with Kelly in 2007 to cofound HUMAN Healthy Living. Mackensen said he has seen tremendous growth in the company, which was named in Entrepreneur Magazine's "Top 100 Most Brilliant Companies," Forbes magazine's "America's Most Promising Companies," and Opportunity Green's "Top 25 Most Innovative Green Start-Ups."
On a personal note, Mackensen, who performed in high school musicals "Bye, Bye Birdie" and "Guys and Dolls," participated in various sports and earned the rank of Eagle Scout as a youth. He was married in Maui, Hawaii, this past April to Carrie White, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist.
He has been a lifelong believer in healthy living and having an active lifestyle, which has served him well as a springboard for his entrepreneurial endeavors.
Mackensen anticipates the HUMAN Healthy Vending machines can help make a difference wherever they're installed. The "overall goal is 10,000 in the field by 2015," he said.
Obesity, he added, "is costing the United States $150 billion a year in preventable health-care expenses," not including the reduction in both productivity and self-esteem, and the four-fold increase in the number of related doctor visits.
"We're looking to lower that incredibly," Mackensen said.
Mackensen also sees HUMAN Healthy Vending as a key player with first lady Michelle Obama in solving the challenge of childhood obesity in conjunction with the nationwide "Let's Move!" campaign.
"We're really looking to parallel that program and support her efforts," he said. "We want to be a driving force for change to end childhood obesity within a generation."