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Nov 25, 2013

Preschoolers Learn Heart-Healthy Lessons with 'Sesame Street'

Study finds heart-health messages in “Sesame Street” promote healthier behavior in preschool children.

They may not hear you when you’re asking them to clean up their toys, but when “Sesame Street” characters talk about healthy eating and exercise, your kids may listen. 

A study recently presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions tested an educational intervention in preschoolers and their parents in Bogotá, Colombia, where unhealthy body weight is common among children and adolescents. 

A total of 1,216 children and 928 parents participated in this program, which used “Sesame Street’s” Healthy Habits for Life materials. Topics of the program included: "loving and caring for your body; eating a variety of foods, with a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables as 'everyday foods' and other foods (such as cookies) as 'sometime' foods; and physical activity as a way to feel great and play with your friends, with opportunities for exercise in many settings.” The goal of the intervention was to increase children’s knowledge about healthy eating and exercise and ultimately encourage healthier habits.  

After following the children and their parents for three years, researchers found that children’s knowledge improved 15 percent, attitudes improved by 51 percent and heart-healthy habits improved 27 percent. Parents’ knowledge and attitudes about heart-healthy behavior also improved and the percentage of children at a healthy weight rose from 62 percent to 75 percent. 

“As a result of our successful pilot intervention in Colombia, the program has also been implemented in Spain, where we have expanded our reach to 20,000 more children,” said Valentin Fuster, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and Director of Mount Sinai Heart at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. (Fuster is taking over as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2014 and also serves as an international advisor for Sesame Workshop’s Global Health Initiative). “Additional countries are now joining in the implementation of this vital childhood intervention allowing for increased education about the benefits of a heart-healthy lifestyle to better protect our world’s tiniest hearts.” In addition, Colombia researchers are developing an intervention targeted at children in rural preschools and another aimed at those in the elementary grades.

Promoting heart-healthy behavior is important at all ages, especially when children are young and developing habits that will carry over into adulthood. Utilizing programs like “Sesame Street” is a novel and effective way to teach children about heart-health and could be an important weapon in our fight against obesity.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How important is maintaining a healthy weight?

  • Overweight and obesity greatly increase risk for diabetes, heart disease and a number of cancers — all of which can be life threatening. Therefore, it is important to take action toward maintaining a healthy weight, as losing just 5-10% of your weight can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce risk for heart disease.
  • What is a healthy weight?

  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.

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