ALEXANDRIA, Va. - In a new Food Pyramid for kids, the government hopes to teach children to eat right with a spaceship computer game, lesson plans, worksheets and tips for families.
Unveiled Wednesday, the kid-specific version of the new pyramid is aimed at children 6 to 11 years old.
"Homework can be fun, don't you think?" Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns asked a roomful of students at Samuel Tucker Elementary School in Northern Virginia.
"Noooooooooooooo," the kids groaned.
But they clapped after seeing the "MyPyramid Blast Off Game," in which a Food Pyramid spaceship blasts off. The ship only makes it to Planet Power if kids load it up with the right combination of healthy food: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat or fat-free milk and lean meat.
Third-grader Saurav Khulal said the game was fun as he played it in the school computer lab. Saurav said he might play it "a little bit" at home, but he prefers games like Pokemon during the half-hour of computer time his parents allow.
Classmate Christine LaPierre played the game with Eric Bost, clicking and dragging a veggie burger - her mom's favorite - spinach salad and chicken on board the ship. Christine said she'll play the game again, but, "My brother won't like it. He would keep on putting cookies on there."
The government rolled out the new guide for healthy eating in April, tipping the old pyramid on its side and adding a stair-climbing stick figure.
The kids' pyramid is more cartoonish, with a girl running up the steps to the top and kids playing soccer, baseball and basketball, walking a dog, riding a bike, stretching, picnicking and even doing yoga.
Exercise is an important part of being healthy, Johanns told the students. Obesity among children and teenagers more than doubled in the past 30 years.
"We don't want this generation of young people to be the first generation that lives fewer years than their parents," Johanns said.
Like the adult's version, the kids' pyramid drew criticism for not going far enough.
"The materials don't even have the guts to urge kids to drink less soda pop, to eat less candy," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.
"If the government really wanted to improve kids' eating habits, it would get junk food out of schools, it would ban junk food advertising on television, it would require calorie counts on fast-food menu boards and sponsor hard-hitting educational materials," he said. "That would really drive home the point that these empty-calorie foods are causing obesity."
At the same time, a food industry group created a separate kids' pyramid in a partnership with the Weekly Reader newspaper that distributed a curriculum to 58,000 classrooms just this week. The group, Grocery Manufacturers of America, said its pyramid was based on the same pyramid for adults but that there was no coordination with the government.
"We saw it as an opportunity for GMA to help promote USDA's nutritional message," GMA spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said.
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