Mrs. Obama and Sesame Street Partner to Curb Cookie Monsters

Friday, November 1, 2013

Michelle Obama and Sesame Street

Henry Hepburn

It’s an age-old problem: how to get children to eat their vegetables.

Now, First Lady Michelle Obama has come up with a plan. Elmo, Big
Bird and their Sesame Street pals, she announced this week,
are going to market fruits and vegetables to kids.

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind the long-running
– and hugely celebrated – educational TV program, is waiving the
licensing fee for its characters for two years, allowing the produce
industry to harness the power of these much-loved puppets.

Starting next spring, shoppers may see Rosita smiling up from
stickers on healthy produce, or Bert and Ernie pointing the way to
stocking up on five a day. Ms. Obama – flanked by Elmo and Rosita –
told an audience in the White House’s State Dining Room that the
agreement was an “unprecedented step”. In a break from First Lady
decorum, she underlined that the characters were offering their
services for free, shouting “YES!” and pumping her fists.

She cited a Cornell University study in which 200 children aged 8-11
had the choice of eating an apple, a cookie or both; most went for the
cookie. Asked again after researchers put Elmo stickers on the apples,
nearly double the number chose the apple.

“Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery
store, and they see Elmo and Rosita and the other Sesame Street
Muppets they love up and down the produce aisle,” said Ms. Obama, who
has been running her Let’s Move campaign to reduce childhood obesity
for four years. “Imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging
us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and

In a recent debate in medical journal BMJ, however, experts
disagreed about the impact of the use of famous people (and puppets,
presumably) in public health campaigns.

Simon Chapman, professor of public health at the University of
Sydney, said that celebrities “massively amplified” media coverage of
neglected problems, pointing to the increase in young women seeking
mammograms after singer Kylie Minogue’s recovery from breast cancer.

But Geof Rayner, former chair of the UK Public Health Association,
argued that celebrities could overshadow campaigns. “Some celebrities
might help, but let’s not look for saviors, buoyed by the happy thought
that the work is done when a celebrity is involved,” he said.


1. What is the positive impact of Michelle Obama and the Sesame
Street characters getting involved with this initiative?

2. Can you think of any reasons why this association might not be

3. To what extent are children affected by food advertising? How can we
harness this?

4. What are the benefits of encouraging children to eat healthily?