WHO Guidelines Call For More Activity, Less Sedentary Behavior For Children Under 5

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Children under five spend far too much time staring at screens, says the World Health Organization, and it’s contributing to a growing, worldwide childhood obesity epidemic. To combat the problem, kids need considerably more physical activity.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that physical activity is essential to kids’ well-being — not just physically, but mentally and socially as well.

“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives.”

Unfortunately, too many children aren’t getting the physical activity they need, and it’s becoming a worldwide health issue.

The Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Across the world, and particularly in wealthier, developed First World nations like the U.S., kids aren’t getting the amount of physical activity they need. What’s more, they’re eating too much, and what they eat is calorie-laden and largely unhealthy, leading to a worldwide epidemic of obesity.

Worldwide, 23 percent of adults and 80 percent of adolescents aren’t getting the exercise they need. That failure to meet physical activity goals accounts for 5 million deaths annually worldwide, via heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other obesity-related diseases.

Staring At Screens, Fastened Into Seats, Not Getting Enough Sleep

The decline in physical activity in children can be traced to a number of factors, but in 2019, and particularly in children under five, the biggest reasons are the amount of screen time kids get, and the amount of time they spend fastened down — such as in strollers.

a cool baby, taking it easy in a stroller
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Also, a contributing factor in the overall lack of wellness brought about by a sedentary lifestyle is the lack of quality sleep in children. Kids who spend too much time staring at screens and who don’t get enough exercise don’t get enough sleep. Specifically, they don’t get enough good sleep, exacerbating the problems.

“Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life.”

Instilling Healthy Patterns At An Early Age

Teaching children the value of physical education is best begun at an early age, even in infancy, says the organization. Families that reduce screen time, walk with their children instead of fastening them into strollers, and promote exercise instill in their kids’ healthy lifestyle patterns that they’ll value as they grow older.

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

Specific Recommendations

For Infants: The organization recommends multiple 30-minute periods of active, floor-based play per day. Infants should spend as much time on their tummies as possible. Kids this age should be strapped into a car seat, stroller, or other devices for no more than one hour at a time. And kids this age should not spend any time staring at screens — rather, sedentary time should be spent with caregivers reading stories to them instead.

For Kids Who Are Able To Walk: Kids out of infancy, and who are able to walk, should spend at least three hours total per day in moderate-to-strenuous physical activity, spread out over the course of the day. Similarly, kids this age should spend no more than an hour strapped into a device, and screen time should be limited to no more than one hour per day.

Please be aware that these guidelines are just that — guidelines. Every child is different, so be sure to check with your pediatrician for his or her own recommendations for your children.