Sesame Street may help kids make healthy choices

Parents might try to feed their kids healthy food at home, but those children often will eventually be responsible for making their own healthy choices.

Researchers behind a new study wanted to explore the effectiveness of educating children about health at a very young age.

The study looked at a group of preschool children and found that three years after an educational program using Sesame Street characters, their knowledge of and attitudes toward a healthy lifestyle had improved.

The researchers behind this new study, led by Valentin Fuster, M.D., Ph.D., director of Mount Sinai Heart at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, wanted to explore how educational programs for preschoolers might promote good dietary behavior, physical activity, and healthy weight in the long-term.

To examine this, Dr. Fuster and colleagues identified 1,216 children at 14 preschool facilities in the Usaquén district of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. The children were between the ages of 3 and 5.

During May 2009, the children and 928 of their parents were assessed for their knowledge of and attitudes toward healthy eating, living an active lifestyle, and physical activity.

The children and parents went through a five-month program using materials from Sesame Street’s Healthy Habits for Life program to provide information and insight on healthy choices and behaviors. Topics ranged from loving your body to eating fruits and vegetables daily to physical activity as a fun way to interact with others.

The participants were assessed for knowledge and attitude scores again 18 months and 36 months after the study’s start.

At the study’s end, the researchers found that average knowledge scores of children increased 15 percent from the study’s beginning three years earlier. Attitudes toward healthy eating increased 51 percent and healthy habits increased 27 percent.

The percentage of children who were determined to have a healthy weight increased from 62.1 percent at the study’s start to 75 percent three years later.

The parents’ knowledge and attitudes also increased at the three-year follow-up, but less dramatically than the children’s.

“After 36 months, the educational intervention maintained a beneficial trend towards a healthy lifestyle in children and their parents,” Dr. Fuster and colleagues concluded.

This study was presented Nov. 18 at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2013 in Dallas, Texas. It is important to note that studies presented at conferences are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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