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Alarmed at the rates of obesity among young people, the children's programme Sesame Street is embarking on a drive to educate its audience about the benefits of healthy eating. As part of the project, some of the show's favourite characters are getting nothing less than a makeover - Cookie Monster is going on a diet while Elmo has started professing a love for exercise.
The producers of Sesame Street, which kicks off its 36th season on public television in the US today, said each episode will now start with a health tip about nutrition, exercise, hygiene and rest.
Dr Rosemarie Truglio, the show's vice-president of research and education, said that the programme had long focused on emotional and physical health but that, given the rise in obesity, the producers were pushing the message about the need to have healthy food and participate in exercise.
As part of the project, Cookie Monster, who used to sing that "C is for cookie", will be telling viewers that biscuits are occasional treats. He now sings: "A cookie is a sometimes food."
Producers deny that Cookie Monster has been placed on a diet. "We would never use the word diet with pre-schoolers," said a spokeswoman. But behind the makeover are depressing statistics on child health.
Almost one in three children in the US is now overweight. Ironically for the makers of Sesame Street, one of the main reasons is that children spend too much time watching television.