Children are going to love the new guidelines set out, for their playtime, by WHO

Children should stay away from screens and spend more time playing outside and sleeping, say experts

The World Health Organisation has released new guidelines for children under the age of 5-years-old. They recommend a maximum time of activity and very less time in front of screens.

“Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and well-being, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life,” says Dr Fiona Bull, programme manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of non-communicable diseases, at WHO.

Restraining in prams or seats for long periods of times are also a no-no.

Children are going to love the new guidelines set out, for their playtime, by WHO

Children playing in a park. Image credit: Buckley AFB

Over 23% of adults and 80% of adolescents are not living an active life. If healthy habits are established early in life it will help shape the lives of children from their childhood through their adult life.

These new guidelines on physical activity for children were developed by a panel of experts at WHO. They evaluated the effects of insufficient sleep, time spent watching screens or restrained to chairs and prams, on young children. They also reviewed the benefits of increased activity in kids.

The importance between physical activity and their impact on physical and mental health was recognised by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, which initially called for these clear guidelines.

“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” says Dr Juana Willumsen of WHO, responsible for the focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity at the organisation. “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep.

The guidelines at a glance as provided by WHO

Infants (less than 1 year) should:

  • Be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play; more is better. For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake. 
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g. prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back). Screen time is not recommended. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.  
  • Have 14–17h (0–3 months of age) or 12–16h (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.

Children 1-2 years of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time. For 1-year-olds, sedentary screen time (such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games) is not recommended. For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
  • Have 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

Children 3-4 years of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.
  • Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged. 
  • Have 10–13h of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

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