For the first time ever, the World Health Organization (WHO) released activity guidelines for children under five years of age, citing the need for children to sit less and play more in order to grow up healthy. Several of these recommendations may present challenges to busy parents of young kids. WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep for Children Under 5 Years of Age were issued in a report released on April 24, 2019. Key takeaways? Caretakers should prioritize physical play and screen-free sedentary time while preserving and defending sleep.
Key activity and sleep recommendations for young children
- Babies who aren’t mobile yet should have at least 30 minutes of daily tummy time (lying down in the prone position). Mobile infants should experience as much daily interactive floor-based play as possible.
- Children under five years old should not be restrained for more than one hour at a time (in strollers, high chairs, car seats, slings, etc.).
- Screen time — watching TV or videos or playing games — is not recommended for children under two years old. Children 2-5 years old should be allowed one hour of screen time per day at maximum. Less is better.
- Babies under three months old should sleep 14-17 hours daily. Infants 4-11 months old should sleep 12-16 hours daily. 1-2 year-olds should sleep 11-14 hours daily. 3-4 year-olds should sleep 10-13 hours daily. These numbers include naps. Regular sleep and wake-up times are encouraged.
How should parents react?
Any parent, especially those with infants or toddlers, will testify that life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes travel, illness or emergencies get in the way. These guidelines are not intended to be a moral barometer for good parenting, but rules of thumb for determining a consistent, safe schedule, and to generate awareness surrounding the importance of establishing good lifestyle habits early on.
Within its report, WHO defines the primary audience for its recommendations: policymakers in health, education and social welfare, as well as people working in human services, early childhood development and the medical fields. This new guidance fills a gap where no official recommendations had been provided until the point.
Rapid development in early childhood sets lifelong habits
Establishing good habits in infants and toddlers is key in establishing lifelong habits, according to the panelists of WHO experts involved in the creation of these guidelines.
“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” says WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”
In other words, experts consider early intervention essential in culling inactivity and its negative health effects over time. According to WHO, overly sedentary lifestyles are responsible for more than 5 million deaths per year worldwide and across all age groups. Over 23% of adults and 80% of adolescents fail to meet recommended levels of physical activity.
WHO is a specialized United Nations agency that issues guidelines on international public health. Established in 1948, its overall focus is to provide leadership for matters of public health, research, governmental policy options, assessing ongoing health trends and catalyzing positive changes.
Source: World Health Organization