What do Elmo and the Republicans have in common? And what’s this got to do with health? Well, first, if you have a toddler in love with the red fuzzy creature adored by millions of preschoolers in North America, brace yourself for the tantrums if the Republicans get their way -- a group of House Republicans called the Republican Study Committee has proposed to axe the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) as part of the Spending Reduction Act of 2011. The Republicans are angling to kill Elmo and all his furry friends on Sesame Street. And if they do, we’ll lose one of the most successful television programs that has educated and entertained preschool kids since 1969.
Second, when we think health, we rarely remember that access to quality health information plays an important role in helping us build healthier lifestyles. Public broadcasting doesn’t immediately leap to mind when searching for health knowledge in the Internet age. But Google "health" and "public broadcasting" and you’ll discover the CPB supports numerous websites that feature health facts and public health messages for adults and kids alike. This in addition to public broadcasting’s funding of health forums and programs on National Public Radio and its network of affiliate stations across the country, plus health documentaries and features on PBS television.
And, of course, there’s Sesame Street. This critically acclaimed children’s television show was the first of its kind more than four decades ago. And it continues to lead the way in reaching American preschoolers with its educational messages on everything from basic spelling to -- you got it -- health. How to brush your teeth, what’s the most important meal of the day (breakfast), why eating veggies and fruits are good for you -- these healthy lifestyle messages reach the youngest Americans disguised as funny skits and catchy sing-alongs lead by Elmo and other characters beloved by their young fans.
Whether your preschooler will refuse ice cream for broccoli is another issue. But, at the very least, Sesame Street and other programs aimed at educating children about healthy habits offer an alternative viewing experience to the endless hours of cheesy toy commercials and junk food advertising to which our kids are exposed.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time Republicans have the knives out for Elmo. Newt Gingrich tried to do away with the CPB when Congress was controlled by the GOP in 1995. But Big Bird saved the day when the public was outraged at the idea of losing Sesame Street. Just last year the Republicans were at it again, taking advantage of the controversy surrounding NPR’s firing of correspondent Juan Williams as an excuse to abolish the CPB. Republicans are also angling to kill other public arts foundations, like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities, they’ve long wished dead.
If you think that public broadcasting and the arts are worth saving for the health of this nation, make your voice heard and sign this Change.org petition.