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State-Wide

Wacky puppets inspire kids to make healthy choices.

From live performances to popular television shows, puppets have long been used to entertain and captivate children of all ages. Tracey Conner, founder and executive director of MicheLee Puppets, uses these fun-loving characters to talk to elementary-aged children in Florida about a variety of topics ranging from divorce to healthy eating.

MicheLee Puppets created EXTREME Health Challenge in response to the rise in childhood obesity and related health problems. Through EXTREME Health Challenge, humorous puppet characters and actors travel to schools to teach elementary age children how to take great care of their bodies. Through a series of challenges, battles of wit, audience participation and puppetry mayhem, children laugh and learn about the importance of good nutrition and active lifestyles.

When puppets aren't visiting schools, kid-targeted music videos and other supporting materials are incorporated into classroom activities to remind children what they learned in a way kids won't forget.

Take Fern Creek Elementary in Orlando. During morning announcements, the school rotates through short and quirky videos highlighting tips for staying healthy. In the hip-hop music video, I Drinky Water, one of the most-loved and familiar puppets sings and dances with a water bottle to encourage kids to choose water over soft drinks.

Another music video uses the catchy chorus line, "If you can't read it, don't eat it" to motivate children to read nutrition labels on foods. If they can't read an ingredient on the nutrition label, it's probably an unhealthy food that they should avoid.

"The kids know the words to the songs and sing along," said Conner. "In fact, it's so much a part of the school culture now that phrases from the live show and videos are used in conversation. The principal from Fern Creek was on vacation and taped a video while hiking in the mountains to share with her students when she returned. At one point, she held up her water bottle and shouted, 'I Drinky Water!'" Watch it now on YouTube.

Overall, schools involved with Extreme Health Challenge report that students are making better choices in the lunch line. They are reading the nutrition labels on the back of the milk cartons and other packages. They are asking teachers questions about sugar content, and they are carrying water bottles with them.

"The messages even reach home," said Conner. "We went to the post office to mail a package, and when the clerk noticed the MicheLee Puppets logo, she exclaimed, 'Hey, my kids saw your health show and now they are constantly pestering my husband and me to go for a family walk after dinner.' That's also a line right out of our show!"