If Sesame Street characters talk about healthy eating and exercise, preschoolers may listen, and their parents may learn as well, researchers in Colombia say.
Dr. Jaime Cespedes, director of the Pediatric Hospital at the Cardioinfantil Foundation Institute of Cardiology in Bogota, said the percentage of children at a healthy weight also improved by 13 percentage points after they were exposed to the TV puppet characters' spiel on health eating and exercise.
In a five-month school-based intervention, Sesame Street characters introduced heart-healthy ideas and actions to 3- to 5-year-olds and their parents in 14 preschools in underprivileged neighborhoods in Bogota. Topics included:
Loving and caring for your body.
Eating a variety of foods, with fruits and vegetables as "everyday foods" and cookies and similar snacks as "sometime" food.
Engaging in physical activity and playing with friends to improve the way you feel.
Three years after the intervention, researchers retested 598 children and 475 parents, finding that compared to their scores prior to the program, the children's knowledge improved 15 percent, attitudes 51 percent and heart-healthy habits 27 percent.
The percentage of children at a healthy weight rose from 62 percent to 75 percent, the researchers said. Their parents' increased knowledge and attitudes about heart-healthy behavior was smaller, but significant.
"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," Fuster said in a statement.
"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."
The findings were presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Dallas.