Preschoolers Learn Heart-Healthy Habits From Sesame Street

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Preschool-age children can learn heart-healthy eating habits, thanks in part to the long-running television program Sesame Street, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2013 conference in Dallas on Monday.

The data presented at the conference was from a three-year follow-up study of preschoolers in Bogotá, Colombia conducted by Dr. Valentin Fuster, the Director of Mount Sinai Heart and Physician-in-Chief at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, and his colleagues. The youngsters involved in the study took part in a structured curriculum using materials from Sesame Street’s Healthy Habits for Life program.

As a result of their participation in the program, those children reportedly improved their knowledge, attitudes and habits associated with a heart-healthy lifestyle, Dr. Fuster’s team discovered. Furthermore, they found that the percentage of children who were at a healthy weight improved by 13 percent.

Fuster and his co-authors partnered with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, to come up with a campaign to promote cardiovascular health education in developing nations, Mount Sinai said in a statement.

Colombia was chosen to serve as the pilot for the five-month long program, during which children between the ages of three and five learned heart-healthy behaviors from Sesame Street characters. Topics of the research included how to love and care for your body, the difference between everyday foods (fruits and vegetables) and sometimes foods (cookies and other sweets), and being physically active by playing with friends.

The preschoolers and their parents were retested at the end of the program, and the investigators found that the kids knowledge improved by 15 percent, their attitudes by 51 percent, and their heart-healthy habits by 27 percent. The percentage of children at a healthy weight increased from 62 percent to 75 percent, and a smaller but still significant change in the knowledge and attitudes of parents was also observed.

“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,” Dr. Fuster said. “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.”

“Cardiovascular health promotion should be started as early as possible and be integrated into all aspects of a child’s life, including family and school,” added Dr. Jaime Céspedes, co-author of the study and the director of the Pediatric Hospital at the Cardioinfantil Foundation Institute of Cardiology in Bogotá, Colombia.

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