Busy parents who make instant caregivers out of tablets and televisions may want to change their strategy. The World Health Organization says that children under 2 years old should not have sedentary screen time at all.

Children should engage more in active play and spend less time sitting around watching screens. Physical activity plus good, ample sleep are keys to growing up healthy.

WHO released a new set of guidelines, detailing recommendations on the amount of physical activity, sedentary time, and sleep time for children aged 5 years and below.

"Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people's lives," says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. He adds that early childhood is a time when fast development occurs, and is a period when family routines can be practiced to boost health benefits.

Effects Of Sedentary Lifestyle In Children

The WHO panel evaluated the effects of insufficient sleep, time spent in front of screens, and time spent restrained in a chair or pram. They also looked into the advantages of increased activity.

Numbers show that more than 23 percent of adults, and 80 percent of teens are not active enough. What's worse, not being able to meet current physical activity guidelines results in over 5 million deaths each year across all age groups all over the world.

Dr. Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity, says play for children should be revived. This means changing from sedentary to active lifestyles, while safeguarding sleep.

Creating Routines

Being able to create a 24-hour activity pattern is critically important. If kids are to be sedentary, WHO recommends spending it solving puzzles, reading, storytelling, and singing. Non-screen-based activities are essential for child development.

The ability to actually implement the new WHO guidelines during the first five years of life will help children develop their motor and cognitive abilities, as well as their lifelong health.

A Glimpse Of The WHO Guidelines

For infants, WHO recommends interactive floor activities. If not yet mobile, caregivers can put the babies on their tummies for at least 30 minutes spread all day. Absolutely no screen time at this age, and good quality sleep of about 14 to 17 hours for aged 0 to 3 months, 12 to 16 hours for aged 4 to 11 months should be achieved.

Children between the ages of 1 and 2 should engage in 180 minutes of various physical activities daily, at the minimum. They should not be restrained to a chair or pram for more than an hour. Screen time is not recommended for 1-year-olds. Less than an hour of screen time is ok with 2-year-olds, but less is better. Sleep should be 11 to 14 hours per day, spread through naps and nighttime sleep at regular wake-up times.

Lastly, children aged 3 to 4 should have at least 180 minutes of physical activity every day, one hour of which should be moderate to vigorous in extent. More is better, of course. Same rules as for the 1 to 2 year-olds apply for restraint and screen times. Children aged 3 to 4 should have 10 to 13 hours of sleep, composed of naps and regular nighttime sleep, with consistent waking times.

WHO will present these guidelines at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow on Sunday, April 28.

Dr. Fiona Bull, WHO program manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases says improving activity, decreasing sedentary time, and guaranteeing good sleep in children will result in better physical and mental health, and wellbeing. These factors may also help prevent childhood obesity and other related diseases later in life.

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