WASHINGTON — The Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge. The national contest, which supports President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, is designed to promote healthier dietary habits among children.

"The Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge highlights the Obama administration’s commitment to combating childhood obesity and improving the nutritional health of America’s youth," said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "We are excited to spur innovation by making it easier for high-tech companies and individuals to identify collaborative, entrepreneurial opportunities. Those who participate in this challenge will be important partners in helping our kids make smarter choices about the foods they eat."

As part of the challenge, the U.S.D.A. has released a dataset with 1,000 of the most common food items as well as open source codes from U.S.D.A. nutrition resources to enable development of a Web-based learning application that incorporates the U.S.D.A.-generated dataset. Entrepreneurs, software developers and students are encouraged to design a creative and educational game targeted to children, especially "tweens," aged 9-12. The dataset is available to the public on Data.gov and MyPyramid.gov.

According to the U.S.D.A., the Web-based games should help motivate children to learn about healthy dietary habits and the importance of eating more nutritional foods. Using the foods dataset, the game should be centered on educational messages that emphasize one or more key nutrition concepts from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPyramid Food Guidance System.

The F.N.C.S. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion will begin accepting fully developed Web-based games in the spring of 2010 that will be judged by a panel of public and private sector nutrition and gaming experts. The Popular Choice winner will be selected based on public votes.

For detailed information about the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, go to www.mypyramid.gov.