Infants under 1 year old should not be exposed to electronic screens and that children between the ages of 2 and 4 should not have more than one hour of “sedentary screen time’.
Young children should not spend more than an hour a day watching television and videos or playing computer games and infants less than one year old should not be exposed to electronic screens at all, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
Limiting, and in some cases eliminating, screen time for children under the age of 5 will result in healthier adults, said WHO, adding that quality sedentary time spent in interactive non-screen-based activities with a caregiver, such as reading, storytelling, singing and puzzles, is very important for child development.
Taking away iPads and other electronic devices is only part of the solution. Children under 5 should also get more exercise and sleep in order to develop better habits, said WHO. Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups.
Physically active and good sleep key for kids under 5
The United Nations agency, issuing its first such guidelines, said under-fives should also be physically active and get adequate sleep to help develop good lifelong habits and prevent obesity and other diseases in later life.
Kids between the age of 1 and 3 should spend 3 hours a day doing physical activity
In its guidelines to member states, the WHO said children between one and four years old should spend at least three hours in a variety of physical activities spread throughout the day.
No screen time for children below the age of 1
Infants under one should interact in floor-based play and avoid all screens, it said.
Being inactive is fueling a rise in the numbers of obese or overweight people worldwide, the WHO said. Excessive weight can lead to premature death from heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancer.
Preventing these deaths needs to start in very early life
One in three adults today are overweight or obese, and one in four adults does not do enough physical activity, she said.
“In this age group of under 5s, it is currently 40 million children around the world (who) are overweight. Of that (figure) 50 percent are in Africa and the southeast Asia region,” Bull said. That translates into 5.9 percent of children globally.
Why keeping active is so important for children
Early childhood is a period of rapid physical and cognitive development during which habits are formed and family lifestyle routines are adaptable, said the WHO guidelines, drawn from evidence in hundreds of studies, many from Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United States.
Sedentary behaviors, whether riding motorized transport rather than walking or cycling, sitting at a desk in school, watching TV or playing inactive screen-based games are increasingly prevalent and associated with poor health outcomes,” the WHO said.
Chronic insufficient sleep in children has been associated with increased excessive fat accumulation as measured by body mass index (BMI), it said.
Shorter sleep associated with more screen time
Shorter sleep duration has been associated with more TV viewing and time spent playing computer games, it added.
Recommendations at a glance:
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.