New Program Encourages Kids to Make Healthier Lunch Choices

March 16, 2005

With government figures estimating 30 percent of all U.S. children are overweight or at risk for being too heavy, there is a necessity for innovative new strategies to prevent these young people from becoming overweight or obese adults.   New research meets this growing challenge through a first-of-its-kind computerized nutritional tool known as the SnackwiseSMNutrition Rating System.

Developed by researchers at the Columbus Children?s Hospital?s Borden Center for Nutrition and Wellness, SnackwiseSM is available to schools around the country for addressing the specific nutritional needs of children ages 5 and up.  In particular, the innovative computer software program allows school officials to determine and color assign a specific nutritional value to the range of foods commonly available to students from vending machines, a la carte lunch lines or school stores. 

SnackwiseSMarms young people with an easy-to-use system that leads to hassle-free nutritional decisions information that we hope will carry over to adulthood, said Kristi Houser, M.S., R.D., research dietitian, Borden Center for Nutrition and Wellness.  The response has been so positive that we're planning on developing a version for toddlers, as well as direct the technology to grocery store snack foods.

To use the computer program, school officials simply input 10 key components posted on the nutritional label of the food packaging.  The program automatically computes the points and assigns the appropriate rating to the snack foods (ratings for the top 100 most common snack foods found in a vending machine have already been computed in the program).  Schools can then color code the snacks in the machine by sections, or devote entire machines to healthy options. The rating system means schools can be assured they are providing their students with highly nutritious snack food options, while retaining the financial benefits of vending machines.

The 10 components that represent major nutritional concerns for American children are: total energy, total and saturated fats, fiber, sugars, protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Through a system of assigned points for each of these components?adding or subtracting based on whether the component makes a positive or negative contribution?each food is assigned a total point value which translates into an easy-to-follow color-coding chart.  Foods with the least amount of points were deemed least nutritious and assigned the color red to signify foods that should rarely be chosen.  For snack foods that received the highest amount of points, or rated most nutritious, the color green was used to indicate that they are the best choices.  Snack foods receiving points in the middle of the range (for being moderately nutritious) were assigned yellow to remind children to choose those snacks occasionally. 

School officials looking for more information on SnackwiseSM or interested in purchasing a kit containing the software program, point-of-sale, stickers, press release and parent letter can visit http://www.snackwise.org.

About Nationwide Children's Hospital

Named to the Top 10 Honor Roll on U.S. News & World Report’s 2017-18 list of “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of America’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric healthcare systems providing wellness, preventive, diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitative care for infants, children and adolescents, as well as adult patients with congenital disease. Nationwide Children’s has a staff of nearly 13,000 providing state-of-the-art pediatric care during more than 1.4 million patient visits annually. As home to the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children’s physicians train the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the Top 10 National Institutes of Health-funded freestanding pediatric research facilities. More information is available at NationwideChildrens.org.