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Can a malnourished puppet highlight America's hunger struggle?

Muppet Lily

Sesame Workshop, Sesame Street/Sesame Workshop, Sesame Street

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A few weeks ago, the U.S. Census Bureau released its latest numbers on poverty. Its findings were stark: The U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1 per cent in 2010 from 14.3 per cent in 2009, its highest level since 1993.

Increasingly, the ranks of America's poor include children who do not get enough to eat. In 2010 about 16.4 million children lived in poverty, the highest number since 1962. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 17 million American children – nearly one in four – have limited or uncertain access to affordable and nutritious food.

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Now the children's show, Sesame Street, plans to address America's decline in one of its upcoming episodes.

A malnourished Muppet will highlight America's struggles with hunger in a show dubbed Growing Hope Against Hunger.

Muppet Lily, an orange-haired puppet in a blue dress, will draw attention to issues of food security along with regular Muppets: Big Bird (a symbol of American naiveté?) and Cookie Monster (a symbol of American excess?). The special will also star country singer Brad Paisley and his wife Kimberly Williams Paisley.

"Food insecurity is a growing and difficult issue for adults to discuss, much less children," said the Paisleys in a statement.

"We are honoured that Sesame Street, with its long history of tackling difficult issues with sensitivity, caring and warmth, asked us to be a part of this important project," they said.

Pink-faced Lily, however, may not reflect the true ethnic composition of poor America.

An analysis of census data shows Hispanic children living in poverty in the United States outnumber poor white children for the first time.

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The number of Hispanic children living in poverty jumped by 36 per cent from 2007 to 2010, to a total of 6.1 million, compared with 5-million non-Hispanic white children who are poor.

A report by the Pew Hispanic Center, found the recession drove the rise, but demographics were also a factor with the Hispanic population growing by more than 40 per cent over the past decade.

The hour-long episode of Sesame Street is expected to air Oct. 9th. It is being sponsored by Walmart.

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About the Author

Sonia Verma writes about foreign affairs for The Globe and Mail. Based in Toronto, she has recently covered economic change in Latin America, revolution in Egypt, and elections in Haiti. Before joining The Globe in 2009, she was based in the Middle East, reporting from across the region for The Times of London and New York Newsday. More

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