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Food Insecurity: Research Shows Sesame Street Helping Families
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 12/09/2011

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, unveiled compelling research, illustrating how Food for Thought: Eating Healthy on a Budget, an initiative that addresses food insecurity, has been successful in helping families increase their knowledge, beliefs and behaviors around nutrition.

Launched in December 2010, Food for Thought: Eating Healthy on a Budget, is a bilingual (English-Spanish) multimedia outreach initiative designed to help support families who have children, between the ages of two and eight, cope with uncertain or limited access to affordable and nutritious food. The kits were produced with funding and partnership support from UnitedHealthcare and The Merck Company Foundation.

The study, conducted by The Field Research Corporation and funded by The Merck Company Foundation, was presented today by a panel of experts moderated by Erica Hill, co-anchor of CBS News' The Early Show, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Key findings from a randomized control evaluation indicated that after four weeks of exposure to the kit:

-- The kit had a positive impact on participants' knowledge, behaviors and attitudes regarding how to cope with food insecurity and maintain healthy habits.

-- The evaluation found clear evidence of positive effects among study participants in motivating many of the behaviors that it promoted, including: seeking information/assistance on how to cope with food insecurity; taking steps to save money on food; and taking steps to promote healthier eating in the family (such as offering whole grains, involving child in shopping and food preparation, and eating with a caregiver).

-- The caregivers who used the Food for Thought kit also reported having less difficulty coping with their food insecurity and communicating with children about food security worries.

"Sesame Workshop's sole mission is to help all children reach their highest potential. As part of our Healthy Habits for Life initiative, the findings from Food for Thought reveal how important that tools engage children and adults alike and encourage a healthy lifestyle as a family strategy," said Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President, Outreach and Educational Practices, Sesame Workshop. "These findings also reveal that it is possible to help families cope with food insecurity and eat nutritional food despite a low or reduced income."

"As a parent, I am reminded on a daily basis how important a healthy diet is to both physical and emotional well-being. There are few things more heartbreaking than the eyes of a hungry child, or a parent who feels too much shame to ask for help," said Erica Hill, co-anchor, CBS News' The Early Show. "Arming families with both information and better access to healthy choices benefits all of us; our children learn better and are more able to focus, allowing them to excel and achieve their dreams. Removing the stigma and stress for parents is also a key part of the equation, something I have noticed in covering the food crisis here at home, and as far away as the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. I'm honored to be a part of this important initiative."

Additionally, Sesame Workshop announced a continued commitment to extend this initiative by holding an advisory meeting on Jan. 10 in Washington, D.C., to explore issues that affect families and children impacted by poverty or near poverty. The meeting will bring together experts and key organizations to discuss the effects of near poverty or poverty on young children's health, social and emotional well-being and educational success. As with Sesame Workshop's Food for Thought initiative, the advisors will guide the Workshop on ways it can support families and develop resources that help young children, especially those most vulnerable, reach their highest potential.

Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget extends Sesame Workshop's Healthy Habits for Life initiative by educating families on how to nurture their children's overall development through good nutrition -- even in the face of tough economic or social decisions to create positive effects that last a lifetime. The Food for Thought program provides families with an educational outreach kit, which includes an original video featuring Sesame Street Muppets, the "Super Foods." The video also features Elmo and friends, along with real families as they try new foods, learn about the importance of healthy snacks and discover that sharing a meal together is a perfect opportunity to connect as a family. There is also a special section for parents and caregivers that addresses the social and emotional issues related to food insecurity; and a segment with award-winning chef Art Smith, who shows families how to stretch a meal and shop locally while saving money. More than one million kits were distributed through UnitedHealthcare, The Merck Foundation and other key organizations including National WIC Association, Feeding America, the National Head Start Association, Witnesses to Hunger and other key organizations. All bilingual materials are available at www.sesamestreet.org/food.

Sesame Workshop also produced Growing Hope Against Hunger, with documentary films by Academy Award winning director and filmmaker Cynthia Wade, which premiered on PBS, and starring Brad Paisley, Kimberly Williams Paisley and the Sesame Street Muppets. The special, made possible by the generous support of Walmart, presents families' personal stories to raise awareness of the widespread issue of hunger in the United States, as well as strategies that have helped these families find resources and grow stronger together. Growing Hope Against Hunger also introduced a new Muppet named Lily whose family has an ongoing struggle with hunger.



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