Cartoon Seeks To Educate On Food Nutrition

food labelsLabelman has joined the pantheon of cartoon characters the government is using to promote healthier eating habits.

The red cartoon figure with a nutrition label body was unveiled Tuesday by health officials as part of their latest effort at solving obesity in the United States.

Labelman guides consumers through a new Web-based program, “Make Your Calories Count,” which the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration announced along with a brochure on how to use nutrition labels.

The program is aimed at showing consumers how to plan a healthy diet and manage calories. And, with a little help from Labelman, its online exercises explain serving sizes and daily nutrient value of the package contents.

John Agwunobi, assistant HHS secretary, said individual health care should be built on “a foundation of responsibility for a healthy, balanced diet.”

“Individuals need to make those choices,” he said. “Government needs to help by making it easy for people to understand and to make the decisions—the right decisions for a healthy and balanced life.”

While Labelman’s mission is to help consumers understand the nutrition label, the Agriculture Department uses two characters—Bac and Thermy—to promote safe food-handling and cooking temperatures.

The agencies are relying on consumers to find the food-labeling guides on the Internet. With no advertising budget, officials are leaning on various non-government health organizations and private businesses to help promote the Web site.

Consumers who find Labelman on the FDA site will have to download the program or brochure.

The Labelman program drew immediate criticism from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group.

Center director Michael F. Jacobson said federal health officials “are just delusional if they think yet another Web site and brochure will make a dent in the obesity epidemic.”

Food nutritional labels are much-read, according to an AP-Ipsos poll taken last spring. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they check food labels at grocery stores. At the same time, 44 percent admit buying some products regardless of the nutrition content.

© 2006 The Associated Press