Question of the Week

September 24, 2007


With the goal of creating a healthier generation which is taking responsibility for its own healthy eating choices, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with the Cartoon Network in order to help children learn how to read food labels.

"Nutrition experts and the Food and Drug Administration ... advocate teaching children to read food labels themselves instead of relying on mom and dad. ... 'Since I find parents are not doing a bang-up job (teaching nutrition), I think it's important to empower the children with their own information,' said Miami registered dietitian Ronni Litz Julien. The FDA partnered with the Cartoon Network earlier this year [2007] to launch a public education campaign encouraging children ages 9 to 13 -- or tweens -- to read the nutrition facts on food labels. ... 'We learned that tweens are able to cognitively understand food labels, they're making food choices on their own, they want independence, yet they're still influenced by their parents,' said Carrie Ainsworth, education outreach specialist for the FDA. The agency will launch a campaign for parents next year reinforcing the same message, she said."

By starting with tweens, the FDA is hoping to help a new generation grow to be healthier teens and adults.

"Spot the Block is an educational campaign launched by FDA and the Time Warner Cartoon Network to encourage 'tweens' (youth ages 9 to 13) to look for (spot) and use the Nutrition Facts (the block) to make healthy food choices. In this way, the two organizations hope to prevent overweight and obesity in the early years, which can ultimately help young people stay healthy and prevent health problems in adulthood. ... Major elements of the Spot the Block campaign respond to one of nine priorities--nutrition--identified by the Department of Health and Human Services for transforming America's health care system. The elements are based on recommendations from both the FDA's Obesity Working Group and the federal government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The dietary guidelines contain science-based advice designed to help Americans choose diets that meet nutritional requirements without exceeding caloric needs. In addition, the guidelines promote health, support active lives, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. The Spot-the-Block theme for tweens is 'get your food facts first.' This message encourages kids to read and think about food facts before deciding what to eat."

To see the Cartoon Network's site which tells its audience: "Before you feed, you need the facts," you can visit

The FDA offers a site to help people understand the nutrition labels on food, as well. This site does include graphics to make the content more clear, but no cartoons characters or games to join the reader as they learn the facts.

"People look at food labels for different reasons. But whatever the reason, many consumers would like to know how to use this information more effectively and easily. The following label-building skills are intended to make it easier for you to use nutrition labels to make quick, informed food choices that contribute to a healthy diet. ..."

However the material is presented, the goals are still to inform consumers (whatever their age) so that they can understand the various aspects of the food labels and make educated decisions about what they eat.

When reading labels, it is important to look at the big picture. Just looking at one or two aspects of the label can only give part of the story.

"Here are some tips to help you get the big picture on food labels:

  • Serving Size
    Always start with the serving size amount. That's because all the information on the rest of the label -- from calories to vitamins -- is based on that amount. ... The label will also list how many servings are in the package. Even things that seem like they'd be a single serving, such as a bottle of juice or packet of chips, may contain more than one serving. ...
  • Calories
    A calorie is a way to measure how much energy a food provides to your body. The number on the food label shows how many calories are in one serving of that food. ...
  • Percent Daily Value
    These percentages show the amounts of nutrients an average person will get from eating one serving of that food...
  • Fat
    ...Although eating too much fat can lead to obesity and health problems, our bodies do need some fat every day. ... Some fats are better than others. ...
  • Cholesterol
    ...The liver manufactures most of the cholesterol a person needs, but cholesterol is also found in the foods we eat. ...
  • Sodium
    Sodium is a component of salt. ... Small amounts of sodium keep proper body fluid balance. Sodium also helps the body transmit electrical signals through nerves. But too much sodium can increase water retention and blood pressure in people who are sensitive to it.
  • Total Carbohydrate
    This amount covers several types of carbohydrates, including fiber and sugar....
  • Protein
    ... If the body doesn't get enough fat and carbohydrates, it can use protein for energy. So be sure the foods you eat give you some protein.
  • Vitamins and Minerals
    It goes without saying that you want to choose foods that are high in a variety of vitamins and minerals. ... Some vitamins -- like vitamin C -- are water soluble, which means that the body can't store them so they need to be consumed daily."

Questions of the Week:
How often do you use the nutrition labels on foods to help you make decisions about what you will eat? How often do you think your peers and family members look to this information when making decisions about what they will eat? What aspects of food labels can be confusing for some people? What do you think would help your peers and family members (young and old) better understand this information? Once they understand the information, what factors do you think will influence how they use it? What factors play a role in when and how you use the information you can find on the food nutrition labels? What would help you use this information to make better food choices?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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