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Improve health literacy by helping peds patients and their families understand complicated medical terms.


Animation can help pediatric patients, their families, and caregivers understand complicated diagnosis in an engaging and relatable way.

The Challenge

The ChallengeWorking with a pediatric population involves a unique set of challenges, especially with a new diagnosis such as asthma or diabetes. These conditions can be complicated and often involve making long-term changes to a child’s daily life. The medical information can feel overwhelming and confusing for young patients as well as their families. Printed materials have limited impact because they are often not read. And even if it is read, printed material may still be ineffective if it’s not written at an appropriate literacy level.

At the same time, it’s important that children understand their condition in a way that’s appropriate for their age, so they can participate in their own care and learn to avoid anything that might aggravate their condition.

Unfortunately, this type of health literacy is hard to produce among patients, child or adult. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found troubling levels of health literacy among adult caregivers. According to the study, only 12% of adults had “sufficient health literacy,” meaning they could function effectively in the U.S. health care system.

This gap in health literacy is something Dr. Jose Calderon, Associate Professor in the Division of Internal Medicine with UCLA, has experienced personally. “My experience with this started when I began practicing medicine and started seeing patients over and over who did not understand what was going on with their health,” says Dr. Calderon.

Dr. Calderon says his patients frequently didn’t understand their conditions or how they could aid in their own treatment. At the time, his patient population was largely Spanish-speaking, and many of them were poor. It quickly became obvious that the old way of communicating with patients—printed handouts full of simplified medical jargon—wasn’t going to work.

Then he had an idea: why not animate health education?

The Solution

The SolutionThe inspiration for animated health videos occurred to him one morning at his home, when he walked downstairs to find his daughter watching Sesame Street. She was engrossed in the show, and Dr. Calderon was inspired to find some way to create health content to which patients responded with similar enthusiasm.

From that moment on, Dr. Calderon has spent years studying how animation can help people of all ages become more informed patients. He has authored some of the most cited articles on the topic. Although it seems like common sense, Dr. Calderon says the use of animated videos to help kids and their adult caregivers understand their medical conditions is still relatively underutilized.

“Anyone can learn from animation. It’s cross-cultural, cross-national. You can change the voice over, change the characters, and it’s effective at all education levels.”

Dr. Jose Calderon, , Associate Professor, UCLA

Funded with support of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Dr. Calderon developed an animated video on type 1 diabetes. working with the future founders of Health Nuts Media. He tested it in various populations across southern California. The results were unambiguous: literacy scores on the Diabetes Health Literacy Survey improved significantly among patients who watched his video.

“Anyone can learn from animation,” he says. “It’s cross-cultural, cross-national. You can change the voice over, change the characters, and it’s effective at all education levels. You don’t even have to know how to read to become health literate.”

Founded in 2010, Health Nuts Media is the healthcare industry’s leading producer of health-related animation. The company’s library of health videos, offered in partnership with patient-education leader The Wellness Network, addresses hundreds of common pediatric issues, ranging from questions about specific procedures and diseases to orientation videos to simple definitions.

Huff and Puff for Results

ResultsThe use of animated health videos has grown significantly since Dr. Calderon’s first experiments. When Dr. Sande Okelo, director of Pediatric Asthma Center at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, needed a better way to teach his patients how to manage their asthma, he decided to use Health Nuts Media’s series “Huff & Puff: An Asthma Tale.”

“Huff & Puff: An Asthma Tale” tells the story of the Big Bad Wolf who huffs…and puffs…and has an asthma attack. The Three Pigs become concerned and take “Big” to the doctor’s office, where he learns all about asthma and how to control his asthma.

The series is available through the clinic’s website, according to Dr. Okelo, where they can be viewed on smartphones, tablets, Internet-enabled TVs, and computers.

Making the videos available online, however, ended up yielding benefits that Dr. Okelo didn’t anticipate at the beginning of the program.

“I direct patients to the website, so that’s one significant use,” Dr. Okelo said. “But it also turned out to help with new patients. I appreciate more and more how parents engage us online even before they visit the clinic and then again after they leave. They scout us out and come in saying, ‘We looked you up online,’ and it’s a very positive thing. We have an opportunity to show our expertise.”

When it comes to measuring how effective the videos are and whether his patients engage with them, Dr. Okelo relies on the same website metrics that are provided to the clinic on a regular basis. The videos have also significantly reduced the amount of time that clinicians and nurses spend on patient and caregiver education, including post-visit phone calls. Most of the antiquated, large supply of off-brand print materials have been recycled, making room for much-needed office space.

Most importantly, says Dr. Okelo, is the fact that the animated videos make it possible for him and his clinical staff to reach patients where they’re comfortable.

“This is where the culture is now,” he says. “It’s online engagement. There is a fair amount of learning that has to take place regarding understanding asthma. I feel like this program is beneficial, and this is where things are heading.”


  1. Berkman ND, Sheridan SL, Donahue KE, Halpern DJ, Crotty K. Low health literacy and health outcomes: an updated systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 19;155(2):97-107.
  2. Calderón JL, Shaheen M, Hays RD, Fleming ES, Norris KC, Baker RS. Improving Diabetes Health Literacy by Animation. Diabetes Educ. 2014 May;40(3):361-372. Epub 2014 Mar 27.