By MIKE MWANIKI
Children under five must spend less time sitting 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, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said achieving health for all means doing what is best for health from a young age.
“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 on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under five years of age were developed by a WHO panel of experts.
They assessed 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.
WHO Programme manager (Surveillance and population-based prevention of non-communicable diseases), Dr Fiona Bull said improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and well-being, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life.
Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups.
Currently, over 23 percent of adults and 80 percent of adolescents are not sufficiently physically active. If healthy physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep habits are established early in life, this helps shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.
“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” said 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.”
“Quality sedentary time spent in interactive non-screen-based activities with a caregiver, such as reading, storytelling, singing and puzzles, is very important for child development.”
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.
Applying the recommendations in these guidelines during the first five years of life, the WHO asserts, will contribute to children’s motor and cognitive development and lifelong health.
WHO recommendations at a glance:
“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…
At the same, they should not be restrained for more than one hour at a time (for example in 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.”
Other recommendations include having 14 to 17 hours (for those in 0 to three months of age) or 12–16 hours (four–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.
WHO recommends that children aged between one to two years, 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; (with) more (the) better…
“(They) should not be restrained for more than one hour at a time (example on 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 while for those aged two years, sedentary screen time should be no more than one hour; (with) less the better.
“When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged…
“(They) should also have 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.”
According to the WHO, Children aged three to four years 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; (with) more the better.
“At the same time, they should not be restrained for more than one hour at a time (for example on prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time…
“Sedentary screen time should be no more than one hour; (with) less the better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged. They should also ensure they have 10–13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times,”.