Sesame Street: An Education in Public Health Messaging

A TV screen shows Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch standing alongside two CommunicateHealth doodles.

Chances are, dear readers, you’ve seen at least a few episodes of Sesame Street over the years. Some people’s earliest lessons in literacy and numeracy come from Elmo, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster.

Sesame Street is famous for finding fun ways to teach kids the ABCs and the 123s — and even lessons in empathy. So, you may not be surprised when we say this show can teach us about effective public health messaging, too.

Sesame Street doesn’t shy away from issues like HIV/AIDS, poverty, and racism — and its cast of Muppets (and humans) is diverse. The show helps challenge stigma by featuring accurate, sensitive portrayals of characters who are dealing with everything from autism to having a parent who’s in prison. They’ve even created materials to help children deal with the effects of trauma.

Sesame Street also offers actionable messages. Characters share tips for healthy behaviors — like riding bikes safely and keeping good oral hygiene habits — with catchy song-and-dance numbers that keep kids’ attention (they sure know their audience!).

One of Sesame Street’s health education goals is encouraging kids to make healthy food choices and get more physical activity. That means more singing vegetables — and fewer cookies for Cookie Monster. According to research, kids are more willing to eat fruits and veggies after watching the show. That sounds like a public health messaging success to us!

Finally, in using language that kids can understand, Sesame Street is a model clear communicator. Check out how Elmo and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy tackled the tricky issue of vaccine confidence — we just ❤︎ Dr. Murthy’s funny, compassionate, plain language explanation of how vaccines work.

The bottom line: Keep an eye on Sesame Street to learn strategies for communicating important public health messages.