Physical activity, sleep and TV: WHO guidelines for children aged 0-5

How much sleep do children need to grow healthy? How much time should they devote to physical activity? How much time a day can they spend in front of the TV to watch documentaries, films or cartoons, or play video games?

All these questions are answered by a brand new guideline published by the World Health Organization which concerns children aged between 0 and 5 years.

The temptation to leave a smartphone or tablet in the hands of a small child, because in this way they are distracted and not disturbed, is common to many parents who, however, should not exceed these “concessions”.

There are habits that should be eradicated immediately , such as leaving the TV on while eating, or leaving it on precisely because the child only eats this way.

Too often children are literally left at the mercy of screens for sheer convenience, because in the meantime adults can devote themselves to something else, or because in this way the children do not disturb, do not mess up the house… or because they don’t have the time or desire to play with them.

Quality time isn’t what they spend in front of the TV or a video game, but it’s what we can dedicate to them, when we play and interact, when we read them a book or tell them stories.

The game has a very important function in the growth of a child and we adults have an irreplaceable role that should in no way be delegated to an electronic device.

The WHO guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under 5 years

The new guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under 5 have been developed by a group of WHO experts. They evaluated the long-term effects of inadequate sleep, time spent in front of screens, and the benefits of increased levels of physical activity.

According to Dr Fiona Bull, head of the NCD surveillance and prevention program at WHO, “ Encouraging physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in children will improve their physical and mental health and will help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life ,”

Also according to the WHO, failure to comply with current recommendations on physical activity is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally every year in all age groups.

Currently, over 23% of adults and 80% of adolescents are not physically active enough. These are worrying numbers, especially as regards our boys. Getting them used to good habits from an early age really represents an investment in their future health.

“What we have to do is bring play back to children”

Sleep, physical activity and TV for babies 0-12 months: WHO guidelines

Physical activity : Children of this age should be left free to move around, perhaps on a special carpet on the floor. There are many multi-activity rugs that are useful for stimulating children’s motor and sensory activities . For very young babies who are not yet able to crawl, they should spend at least 30 minutes on their stomachs when they are awake. This helps them to strengthen their arm and back muscles in particular.

They shouldn’t be more than an hour at a time in a stroller or pram or bouncer.

TV/Telephones : At this age they should never be placed in front of a screen, entertainment should come from reading, stories and songs.

Sleep : from 0 to 3 months they should sleep 14-17 hours (including naps) while from 4 to 11 months 12-16 hours (including naps).

Sleep, exercise and TV for 1-2 year olds

Physical activity : Children of this age need to move at least 180 minutes a day. The activity can be represented by walks in the park. The child must be able to move freely (but always safely) in the house and in the garden.

Children should never be left in strollers, high chairs, baby carriers for more than an hour at a time, or left sitting for a long time.

When they are seated, read a book, tell them a story, interact with them.

TVs/Telephones : TVs and video games are not recommended for this age group; from the age of two on the other hand, the time they spend in front of the screen must not exceed 1 hour a day. Less is more.

Sleep : a child of this age should sleep a total of 11-14 hours a day (between night sleep and naps)

Sleep, exercise and TV for 3-4 year olds

Physical activity : Children this age should engage in at least 180 minutes of physical inactivity each day, including 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity.

Babies should not be kept for more than one hour at a time in a stroller, bouncer or similar. When the children are sitting, read them a book or tell them a story.

TV/Telephones : Time in front of a TV or similar should never exceed one hour, and the less the better.

Sleep : Babies this age should get 10-13 hours of sleep a day overall.

These are very strict rules but suitable for children of this age who are in the full development of their motor and sensory skills and need suitable stimuli.

For later ages it is important to give rules but at the same time also allow children to discover the potential of the digital world.

TV can be watched together, it can be a source not only of entertainment but also of reflection and learning (reading up for example). It is important to make the child comment on what he sees, make him reflect, discuss together, so that as a passive user, he gradually acquires a critical vision of what the screen offers him.

Videogames can help to stimulate psycho-neuromotor skills but always if used in the right time and measures and must always be proposed as an alternative to TV: one or the other.

Children should never be allowed access to the TV or computer when they are alone.

Kathryn Barlow is an OB/GYN doctor, which is the medical specialty that deals with the care of women's reproductive health, including pregnancy and childbirth.

Obstetricians provide care to women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, while gynecologists focus on the health of the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, uterus, vagina, and breasts. OB/GYN doctors are trained to provide medical and surgical care for a wide range of conditions related to women's reproductive health.

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