(June 21) Trying to stem rising obesity rates, the Food and Drug Administration has launched its Spot the Block: Get Your Food Facts First program targeting children age 9-13 — the “tweens” — by encouraging them to eat healthier foods by reading the blocks or nutrition labels.

The messages shun traditional government communications by airing the commercials on a children’s cable television channel. The public education campaign uses animated spots airing on the Cartoon Network that speak the children’s language.

The cartoons urge teenagers to not only read but also understand the labels’ meanings and make proper eating decisions and choices from the label information.

“We really wanted to reach kids where they are and use the tools and the venues that really resonate with them,” said Camille Brewer, deputy director of the FDA’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements. “With the really alarming rates of obesity, the more we plant these key messages and the more we repeat them, the greater effect we will have on impacting public health in a positive way.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables, which are ranked high in the Food Guide Pyramid’s dietary guidelines, should benefit from the program, said Marjorie Davidson, education team leader of FDA’s food defense communications and emergency response office.

More packaged produce items include nutrition labels and should help encourage the teenagers to consume the food, she said.

Brewer said focus group discussions showed that many children’s lives mirror their parents.

“They’re very busy and are eating on the run,” Davidson said. “They’re doing more of their own meal preparation than we had anticipated. At the same time, at that age they’re really into other things besides nutrition and reading nutrition labels. We needed to get their attention by reading those labels and making healthy choices.”