The US National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) is introducing a colour-coding system to help children select healthy snacks from vending machines.
The Snackwise Nutrition Rating System was developed by Columbus Children's Hospital to help children recognize how snack foods fit into an overall healthy diet.
Foods are ranked according to their content of calories, protein, calcium, fiber, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, fat, saturated fat and sugar and assigned to one of three categories: "choose rarely" (red); "choose moderately" (yellow); or "choose frequently" (green).
Candy bars might typically fall into the red category, potato chips into yellow and granola bars into green, however nutritional value is not the same for between each brand and variant. The Snackwise system means that each product is assessed on its own merits, a spokesperson for NAMA explained to NutraIngredients-USA.com.
"It's easy and fun, and children can make smarter snack choices early on that will hopefully carry on into adulthood," said Jan Ritter, dietician at Columbus Children's Hospital's Borden Center for Nutrition & Wellness.
It is not yet known how many vending machines will carry the stickers, but NAMA is making them available to all its operators who fill the machines. Initially they are aimed at schools, but the system may be broadened out to other locations in the future.
The new scheme is part of NAMA's Balanced For Life campaign, which aims to help stem rising obesity rates by educating parents, teachers and students about nutrition and physically activity.
NAMA president and ceo Richard Geerdes said: "We want to be part of the solution, which is why we have created this program."
"If we can help our children truly understand the elements of a balanced diet and the importance of being physically active we can have a lasting impact on their lives, protecting and enhancing their future."
Other elements of Balanced for Life include the launch of a new website www.BalancedforLife.net and a partnership with non-profit after-school soccer and literacy program America Scores, which will deliver nutritional education to students in 12 US cities.
Around 15 percent of children and adolescents in the US are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - a figure that has doubled since the early 1970s. Concerned government and industry bodies are introducing schemes to try to redress the situation.
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans unveiled last week stressed the importance of a balanced diet and deriving maximum nutritional benefit from calories consumed.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has also issued the food industry and media with a set of guidelines proposing that the suitability of products for marketing to children should be determined by basic nutritional thresholds.