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Exercise, sleep, screens: New guidelines for children under 5

Exercise, sleep, screens: New guidelines for children under 5

The new guidelines for younger children are based on a systematic review of scientific evidence in published studies regarding the health benefits of physical activity, sleep and limiting time spent staring at screens among infants and young children.

For infants between one and two years old, World Health Organization recommends two hours of physical activity per day, with no more than an hour of "sedentary screen time", and at least 11 hours of sleep.

"Sedentary behaviours, whether riding motorised 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", says WHO's guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under five.

World Health Organization suggests children who must be sedentary engage in reading and storytelling with a caregiver when possible. It noted that physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for death and a contributor to the rise in obesity. But overall, the group said parents should "prioritize creative, unplugged play time for infants and toddlers". Screen time is not recommended for 1-year-olds, and the guidelines recommend that it be limited to one hour a day for 2-year-olds.

Children aged two to four should not be allowed more than one hour of "sedentary screen time" per day. If healthy amounts of physical activity and sleep are established early in life, it will shape habits through adulthood, the agency stated.

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Despite acknowledging that its "strong recommendations" were based on "very low quality evidence", the United Nations health agency said its advice could apply to all young children, regardless of gender, cultural background or socio-economic status.

"The absolute priority for very young children has to be on face-to-face interactions, physical exercise and sleep", said Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of "iGen", a 2017 book focusing on the effects of social media and other technology on kids.

"Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains". Features that discourage breaks, such as YouTube's default "auto-play" feature, are a frequent source of complaint among consumer advocates who say technology companies are encouraging compulsive behavior by children who lack adult self-control. "This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep", she added. Further, the important interactions between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and adequate sleep time, and their impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing, were recognised by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, which called for clear guidance on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep in young children.

"For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake", the report states. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.

"What exactly is "sedentary screen time" anyway?" asked McConway, one of several experts who took issue with WHO's use of the term.


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