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"Smash your food" app breaks down sugar, salt and oil content of kids' meals

Food N' Me

(CBS News) Getting kids to eat healthier without nagging can be close to impossible. But, there's new hope in the form of an app that allows kids to play with their food - and even smash it to oblivion.

One of the winners of Michelle Obama's Apps for Healthy Kids' Competition, "Smash Your Food" is a mobile game that allows kids to find out the sugar, oil and salt content in common foods in a fun way.

"We did some pilot research prior to launching each of our games," game creator and nutritionist Marta De Wulf explained to HealthPop. "Parents are more apt to hand over the iPad or iPhone if they realize the kid is going to get something out of it."

De Wulf - who has educated people about their diets for over two decades - decided to start creating games to teach kids about food after meeting with one obese client who told her she wished she had learned healthy eating habits in the second grade before gaining weight. She talked to over 3,000 elementary school children who said their parents usually nagged them about nutrition, but they weren't really sure how bad certain foods were and meant.

So, De Wulf created "Smash Your Food." Instead of lecturing children about the benefits of healthy food, the app allows kids to guess how many sugar cubes, shakes of salt and teaspoons of oil are in edible items like burgers, fries and sodas. If they are right, they get a star; if they guess the exact number, they get two stars. The app also takes into consideration the child's gender, weight and activity levels and gives recommendations based on their recommended daily dietary intakes and whether or not that food is okay for them to eat.

For example, each smashed 12 ounce can of soda contains eight cubes of sugar. Compare that to a jelly donut, which has five cubes of sugar, one shake of salt and one teaspoon of oil.

"Kids are getting grossed out and boycotting fries and burgers," De Wulf said. "Others are portioning their food, saying 'I can eat half a donut today.'"

The goal of the app is to connect what kids are seeing in the virtual app to reality. There's even tips for parents that shows a child's daily recommended dietary needs so they have a tool to help their kids.

"It's really trying to show people what's in their foods," De Wulf explained. "It teaches, 'How can I either modify it or make changes and allow this into my diet?' It gives us a realm and a scope."

"Smash Your Food," which is produced by Food 'N Me, is available for the iPad and will be available for the iPhone and iPod touch later this summer.

More than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, according to the CDC. Obese kids are at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems and psychological problems such as poor self-esteem.