Sesame Street: An Education in Public Health Messaging

A TV screen shows Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch standing alongside two CommunicateHealth doodles.
Alt: Sesame Street characters share public health messages with kid doodles.

Chances are, dear readers, you’ve seen at least a few episodes of Sesame Street over the years. Or maybe you’ve seen a lot more than that — and some of your earliest lessons in literacy and numeracy came from Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and friends. (There are lots of us out there!)

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

Despite being a show for kids, Sesame Street doesn’t shy away from complex topics like HIV/AIDS, poverty, and racism — and its cast of Muppets (and humans!) is very 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 excels at providing kids with super actionable messages. Characters share tips for healthy behaviors — like riding bikes safely and oral health care — with catchy song-and-dance numbers that keep kids’ attention (talk about knowing your audience).

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.

Tweet about it: Look no further than @sesamestreet to see #HealthLit strategies in action, says @CommunicateHlth. (It can even help us #communicateCOVID!)


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