MACC Turned Muppet Puts Focus on Children's Heart Health

Dr. Fuster Sesame Street
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“I walked in the room and was approached by a Muppet who simply said ‘I am you,’” said Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, MACC, director of Mount Sinai Heart at Mount Sinai Medical Center and professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and now the inspiration for one of Sesame Street’s newest characters.

Dr. Ruster, a new character created in Fuster’s likeness on the Spanish version of Sesame Street known as Barrio Sesamo: Monstrous Supersanos, educates children to lead healthy lifestyles through nutrition and exercise. Fuster learned about the honor after receiving a call from the Sesame Workshop, the non-profit parent organization behind programs like Sesame Street, to come to a film production studio this past May, at which time he was surprised to see himself in puppet form. Two months later Dr. Ruster made his first appearance with the purpose of sharing heart healthy messages derived specifically from two children’s books authored by Fuster.

“Dr. Ruster’s impact on children’s health has already begun,” said Fuster after only six weeks of episodes had aired. The first episodes show Dr. Ruster educating Grover, a popular Sesame Street character, about the functions of the heart, as well as hosting a game show with the Cookie Monster character about the differences between healthy and unhealthy food. Another episode even shows him whipping up a fresh batch of gazpacho in the kitchen.

“He is a leader to the rest of the Muppets,” said Fuster. “Cookie Monster and the others look up to him and this makes children see his importance.”

Fuster’s connection to the Sesame Workshop began in 2007 with the Salud Integral (SI) Project that connects Mount Sinai Heart and partners in both Colombia and Spain to promote informed nutrition and lifestyle choices among children, teachers and caregivers via television content, community outreach and evidence-based research. As part of the SI project, Fuster has also worked with Plaza Sesamo, the Latin American version of Sesame Street, in Colombia.

The SI project in Columbia hosted a study to test the impact that the program components had on nutrition and exercise, the results of which will be published in the American Journal of Medicine in Dec, 2012. Thanks to the success of the program and Fuster’s role as an international advisor on Sesame Workshop’s Global Health Initiative, Sesame Workshop has begun to explore the possibility of spreading the initiative and Dr. Ruster to more countries including Germany, France, the United Kingdom and eventually the U.S.

“While we have group programs to help adults change unhealthy behaviors, these changes can take a while,” said Fuster. “But it is easier to change behavior in children if we start early.”

Fuster encourages others to use tools similar to Dr. Ruster’s message to children in order to improve preventative and behavior-changing outreach to children. “Be creative,” said Fuster on generating ideas for projects, programs and tools to make a significant difference in children’s heart health.

This article appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Cardiology magazine. Click here for the full issue.

Keywords: Child, Television, Life Style, Global Health, Books, Exercise, Community-Institutional Relations, Hispanic Americans, Colombia, United States, Caregivers

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