New WHO guidelines stress the importance of active play for at least 180 minutes a day, less sedentary behavior, and more quality sleep among children aged younger than 5 years.
The organization said poor physical activity contributes to more than 5 million deaths around the world in all age groups, and more than 80% of adolescents fail to meet physical activity recommendations. They suggested that positive activity and sleep behaviors established early in life could shape future behaviors.
“These guidelines are appropriate for all healthy children aged younger than 5 years and will help health care providers advise parents on how much active play their child should have throughout the day in a variety of ways,” Juana Willumsen, a WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity, told Infectious Diseases in Children.
Willumsen and colleagues suggested that children aged 1 to 2 years should not be restrained in strollers or seats for more than 1 hour at a time or sit for extended periods. Sedentary screen time is not recommended for children aged 1 year and younger, and those aged 2 years should not have screen time exceeding 1 hour — “less is better,” according to WHO. These children also require 11 to 14 hours of quality sleep, which includes naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.
In addition, children aged 3 to 4 years should spend at least 180 minutes doing physical activity throughout the day, and 60 of those minutes should be devoted to activity of moderate to vigorous intensity. The authors also recommended that children in this age group not be restrained for more than 1 hour, and they should get 10 to 13 hours of quality sleep, which may include a nap.
The authors of the guideline said that during sedentary time, parents should strive to provide more interactive, nonscreen-based activities like reading, storytelling, singing or completing a puzzle with their child.
“Replacing sedentary screen time with active play, while protecting quality sleep, will have additional health benefits,” Willumsen said. “Health care providers may need to provide additional advice and tailor these recommendations for children with disabilities or medical conditions.” – by Katherine Bortz
Disclosure: Willumsen is a WHO staff member.