WHO recommends one-hour maximum screen time per day for under-5s

Brenda Watkins
April 25, 2019

Babies and toddlers should spend no more than an hour at a time in prams, slings and auto seats to fight child obesity, the agency says in its first physical activity guidelines for young children.

The WHO also stressed that children aged one to three should have at least three hours of physical activity and not be constrained in a stroller, vehicle seat or carrier for more than one hour at a time.

"Healthy physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep habits are established early in life, providing an opportunity to shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood", the World Health Organization said. Children 1 to 2 years old should have about three hours of physical activity throughout the day and not be restrained for more than one hour at a time.

The WHO guidance, created to help national policymakers, also includes advice on physical activity, and sleep among under fives.

For infants under one, World Health Organization recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, including prone position - or tummy time - for those not yet mobile, it said. Those aged 2 to 4, the global health agency said, should spend no more than an hour a day in front of a screen.

In Australia, the current recommendation is for no more than two hours of screen time per day for children, with screen time not recommended for children under two.

In recommendations specifically aimed at under-fives for the first time, the United Nations health agency said that about 40 million children around the globe - around six per cent of the total - are overweight.

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The WHO said under-fives should be physically active and getting plenty of sleep, under-fives would establish healthy habits through adolescence and into adulthood.

The WHO defines sedentary screen time as "watching TV or videos or playing computer games".

"Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains", Ghebreyesus said.

"Physical activity has the greatest impact, and the recommendation for 180 minutes of physical activity for children over 1 of year of age is really a return to active play". The WHO didn't outline negative side effects associated with screen time, but noted that more physical activity (and thereby less screen time) is necessary for the overall well-being of kids.

The guidelines emphasised that young kids need be physically active and get enough sleep.

Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, agreed that while restricting young children's screen time appeared to "make sense.in many ways the conclusions drawn about screens are out of step with scientific evidence of harm". If the baby isn't mobile, they should have at least 30 minutes of "tummy time" throughout the day.

In January the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health shied away from recommending a limit, but said children should not be exposed to screens for at least an hour before bedtime. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.

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