Health & Wellness

Education, a proven remedy for some serious health issues.

Teaching children important health lessons is a critical part of Sesame Street in the U.S. and around the world. Through innovative health education programs, we’re addressing issues like the stigma of HIV/AIDS in South Africa; malaria in Tanzania; childhood obesity in the U.S., Mexico, and Colombia; and flu transmission around the world. As research shows, programs like these may be just the right prescription for giving children a healthy start in life.

Developing healthy habits

Our Healthy Habits for Life program to combat childhood obesity is having a healthy impact through educational messages within the show, as well as a comprehensive outreach effort. Several studies make it clear that our popular characters have a significant impact on children choosing one food over another. In fact, research with U.S. kids shows that when a healthy food is promoted by a Sesame character, children eat 31% more of it than when it’s promoted by an unknown character.1 An earlier study suggested that when Elmo promotes broccoli, children’s interest in eating broccoli over chocolate increases by 127%.2 A study in Mexico found a similar connection: Pairing healthy food with a Sesame character increases children’s likelihood of choosing it over unhealthy food by 10%.3

Clearly, the Sesame Street Muppets can be a powerful force for healthy eating. It’s no surprise then that our Healthy Habits for Life efforts are paying off. When using our kits, almost all childcare providers (98%!) report children making improved food choices, such as eating more fruits and vegetables.4 And the message hits home, too: families report a much greater willingness to incorporate healthy foods in their diet—products such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lower-fat milk see increases as high as 18%.5 Thanks to the program, caregivers and parents spontaneously mention making better food choices as an example to their children.4

Similar efforts are paying off in Latin America, where Colombian children saw a 15% improvement in knowledge, attitudes, and habits related to healthy nutrition and active lifestyle after an 8-month outreach intervention.6Meanwhile in Mexico, the vast majority of families (68%) using our local Healthy Habits outreach materials report positive changes in their children’s nutrition and hygiene habits. Same with teachers: as many as 71% of teachers report that the Healthy Habits materials help their students learn healthy lessons.3

HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness

In Africa, where we’ve made HIV/AIDS education a critical part of our curriculum, our efforts are playing a crucial role in the fight against the dreaded disease. Children exposed to Takalani Sesame, South Africa’s local version ofSesame Street, show measurable gains in HIV/AIDS knowledge and attitudes, including basic knowledge of the disease, blood safety, de-stigmatization, and coping with illness. Those children are four times more likely to have some knowledge of HIV/AIDS, while their attitude toward destigmatization of the disease improves fivefold compared to those who are not exposed.7 At the same time, parents and caregivers who viewed Takalani Sesame’s companion television special, “Talk to Me,” were twice as likely to talk with their children about HIV than those who had not watched.8 And Takalani’s impact goes beyond preschoolers, confirmed by a national survey of HIV prevalence, incidence, behavior, and communication commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The survey concludes that “although Takalani Sesame is primarily a children’s programme, it achieves high awareness across all age groups.”9

We’re having a similar impact in other parts of Africa, too. In Nigeria for instance, one study showed that after meeting Kami, a lovable HIV-positive Muppet, 93% of children think it’s OK to play with a person who has HIV/AIDS, compared with only 38% before meeting her.10

Malaria prevention and awareness

Kilimani Sesame, our local version of Sesame Street in Tanzania, is making significant strides on the malaria front through radio, television, and outreach efforts. A recent study confirmed that Tanzanian children know significantly more about malaria transmission and prevention after using Kilimani Sesame materials.11

Lessons like these hold the promise for fitter, thriving families and communities for years to come. Amazing what a healthy dose of Sesame can do.

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Our Health & Wellness-related impact studies
1 Kotler, J.A., Schiffman, J.M., & Hanson, K.G. (in press). The influence of media characters on children’s food choices. Journal of Health Communication.
2 Cohen, D. & Kotler, J. (2005). Preschoolers’ perception of healthy food. Paper presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Atlanta, Georgia.
3 Consultores en Investigación y Comunicación (CINCO). (2009). “Hábitos saludables para toda la vida”, Summary of Findings from Impact Assessment, Yucatán, Mexico: CINCO.
4 KidPoint, LLC. (2009). Healthy Habits for Life Child Care Resource Kit Evaluation Report. Unpublished report.
5 Ritchie, L.D., Whaley, S.D., Spector, P., Gomez, J., Crawford, P.B. (2010). Favorable Impact of Nutrition Education on California WIC Families. Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior42(3S).
6 Mount Sinai Cadiovascular Institute, Fundación Cardioinfantil – Instituto Cardiología, Sesame Workshop. (Forthcoming). Impact of an 8-month intervention on knowledge, attitudes, and habits of preschoolers towards an active lifestyle and healthy diet.
Khulisa Management Services. (2005). Impact assessment of Takalani Sesame Season II Programme. Johannesburg, South Africa.
8 Health and Development Africa. (2005). Impact Assessment of a New Programming Component on HIV/AIDS for Takalani Sesame. Johannesburg, South Africa.
9 Nelson Mandela Foundation. (2005). South African National HIV Prevalence, HIV Incidence, Behavior, and Communication Survey. Cape Town, South Africa: Human Sciences Research Council Press.
10 Sesame Street Nigeria Team. (2009). Sesame Street Nigeria pilot child study: Findings from an informal assessment of children. [Report prepared for Sesame Workshop]. Abuja, Nigeria: Sesame Street Nigeria.
11 Borzekowski, D. L. G., & Macha, J. E. (2010). The role of Kimilani Sesame in the healthy development of Tanzanian preschool children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology31, 298-305.