Kids Should Watch More TV

Children exposed to "Sesame Street"-type series show improved literacy, cognitive skills

(RxWiki News) Indonesian children in a recent study showed improved educational skills and healthy development after exposure to "Jalan Sesama" (a "Sesame Street"-type show) for 14 weeks.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that watching the TV show improved literacy, mathematics, early cognitive skills, safety knowledge and social awareness compared to those with little or no exposure to the series.

“I was amazed with how much television young children in Indonesia watch,” said Dina L.G. Borzekowski, EdD, the study’s lead author and associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society. "Mostly the shows children were seeing were of adult nature or dubbed episodes of 'Sponge Bob Squarepants' and 'Scooby-Doo.'"

"Jalan Sesama," but contract, was created in Indonesia for Indonesian children.

Borzekowski and co-author Holly K. Henry, a doctoral student, examined the effect of a 14-week intervention on 160 children in Pandeglang District of Indonesia’s Banten Province using a randomized experimental research study design. The children, ranging in age from 3 to 6, were questioned on their knowledge and skills at the beginning of the study and after the 14-week intervention. They found that children with the greatest exposure to "Jalan Sesama" performed best of any of the study groups. The researchers even adjusted for baseline scores, age, gender, parents’ education and exposure to other media.

"We present evidence that when a culturally and age-appropriate show is offered, it can change the lives of preschoolers," said Borzekowski. "Our data show that 4, 5, and 6 year olds learned important and healthy messages.”

A similar study looking at a Tanzanian version of "Sesame Street" resulted in similar findings: children with greater exposure showed more gains in cognitive, social and health outcomes (including higher scores on literacy and primary-math-skills tests, greater ability to describe appropriate social behaviors and more knowledge about malaria and HIV/AIDS) than those with less exposure.

In related news, the U.S. version of "Sesame Street" has introduced four new muppets called "Superfoods" (which include a stalk of broccoli, a brick of low-fat cheese, a whole-wheat bun and a banana) to address children's fear of trying new, healthier food options when presented with them. In the skit, children learn that they can change their palettes and enjoy new flavors, even if they don't immediately take to them.

The "Superfoods" were introduced, in part, to help combat food insecurity (a lack of access to fresh, nutritious foods because of money). About 17 million American children are food insecure, more than half of whom are under six years old.

"Sesame Street," which began airing in America in 1969, combines muppets, animation, short films, humor and cultural references with the aim of mastering "the addictive qualities of television and do(ing) something good with them," according to the series' creators. Educational and television experts came together to hold seminars as part of the series' development. These seminars helped inform the series' cognitive, affective and outreach goals.

Funding for "Jalan Sesama" and related research was provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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Review Date: 
December 13, 2010