A five-month school based intervention showed preschoolers can learn about healthy eating and exercise if taught in an enjoyable manner.
In a study presented on November 18 at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2013, preschoolers in Bogotá, Colombia participating in a structured curriculum that used Sesame Street's Healthy Habits for Life materials improved their knowledge, attitudes and habits related to a heart-healthy lifestyle. Also, the percentage of children at a healthy weight improved by 13 percent.
In 2006, Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, the study's principal investigator and Director of Mount Sinai Heart and Physician-in-Chief at The Mount Sinai Hospital, partnered with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, to develop this campaign to promote cardiovascular health education in the developing countries. Colombia was selected as the pilot.
In a five-month school based intervention, Sesame Street characters introduced heart-healthy ideas and actions to three- to five-year-olds and their parents in 14 preschools in underprivileged neighborhoods in Bogotá. Topics 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;
• Physical activity as a way to feel great and play with your friends, with opportunities for exercise in many settings.
Three years after the intervention, researchers retested 598 children and 475 parents:
• 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.
• Parents' increased knowledge and attitudes about heart-healthy behavior was smaller, but significant.