Healthy children need to play more, sit less
New guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend children aged under five years old spend less time watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy.
The guidelines say improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life.
Developed by a panel of WHO experts, the recommendations were based on assessments of the effects on young children of inadequate sleep, and time spent sitting watching screens or restrained in chairs and prams. They also reviewed evidence around the benefits of increased activity levels.
The research found 23 per cent of adults and 80 per cent of adolescents were not sufficiently physically active.
“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” says Dr Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity. “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep."
She said caregivers needed to replace prolonged restrained or sedentary screen time with more active play, while making sure young children get enough good-quality sleep.
She also said quality sedentary time spent in interactive non-screen-based activities with a caregiver, such as reading, storytelling, singing and puzzles, was very important for child development.
Goodstart pedagogy and practice general manager Sue Robb said in a child’s first five years, their physical body was developing faster than any other time in their lives.
“Therefore, it’s vital that children have the physical experiences they need to support their development with three hours of activity the recommendation.”
The research is timely with Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge, recently commenting
on the importance of activity for young children.
“Ninety per cent of our adult brains are developed before the age of five and what a child experiences in those really early years directly affects how the brain develops,” the Duchess said.
“I feel that nature and being interactive outdoors has huge benefits on our physical and mental wellbeing, particularly four young kiddies.”
WHO Recommendations at a glance:
Infants (less than one year) should:
Children one to two years of age 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 an 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 14–17 hours (0–3 months of age) or 12–16 hours (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.
Children three to four 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 one 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 one-year-olds, sedentary screen time (such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games) is not recommended. For those aged two years, sedentary screen time should be no more than one 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.
For more visit: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/311664
- 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 an hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time. Sedentary screen time should be no more than an hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
- Have 10–13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.