The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued its first-ever guidelines on physical activity, sleep and sedentary screen time for children under 5.

In a press release on Wednesday, the United Nations’ public health agency said that children under 5 must spend less time sitting and watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats.

It added that the little kids must also get better quality sleep and have more time for active play 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,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

“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, developed by a WHO panel of experts, 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.

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

Here are the recommendations below, according to 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.”

The guidelines will be presented at the European Congress on obesity in Glasgow on Sunday.



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