A new national gaming contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture aims to spur creation of Web-based games that encourage healthy eating among kids.

The USDA’s Food Nutrition and Consumer Services is launching the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge. The agency is releasing datasets and codes that can be developed by software specialists in creating Web-based applications related to the challenge.

“Those who participate in this challenge will be important partners in helping our kids make smarter choices about the foods they eat,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

The agency said the challenge is open to students, software developers, and entrepreneurs to design educational nutrition games targeted to kids ages 9-12.

The agency said the dataset that can be used in game development is available to the public on www.Data.gov and www.MyPyramid.gov.

The games should be centered on educational messages that emphasize one or more key nutrition concepts from the Dietary Guidelines, according to the release. The USDA’s Food Nutrition and Consumer Services division will be accepting fully developed games in 2010, the news release said.

The games will be judged by a panel of nutrition and gaming experts, the release said.

Look for details about the contest at www.MyPyramid.gov.