WHO releases guidelines on children’s screen time and physical activity

According to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) children under five need to be spending less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats “if they are to grow up healthy.”

“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”

The new guidelines were developed by a WHO panel of experts.

They say they assessed the effects of inadequate sleep, and time spent sitting watching screens or restrained in chairs and prams on young children.

Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups.

“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” says WHO Dr. Juana Willumsen, “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep.“

According to WHO, non-screen-based activities with a caregiver, such as reading, storytelling, singing, and puzzles, is very important for child development.

“The important interactions between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and adequate sleep time, and their impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing, were recognized by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, which called for clear guidance on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep in young children.”

WHO, recommendations:

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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