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Establishing healthy habits with children starts at a very young age, and with so much information available to parents, it’s easy to get overwhelmed simply trying to find the right answers. How much playtime should your one year old really get? Is it okay for a six month old to watch some television or play with a tablet? Is your child getting enough sleep every night? After a panel of experts with the United Nations’ public health agency reviewed scientific evidence, new guidelines for sleep and sedentary behaviors have been developed for children ages 5 and under, helping the World Health Organization (WHO) create recommended guidelines.

Why the Recommendations are Needed

Not only do the recommendations help parents and guardians understand the best way to help their children start off on the right foot, but these also help policymakers who are making decisions that affect early child care. Juana Willumsen, an expert in WHO’s Department of the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases, noted that with an earlier, dramatic rise in childhood obesity rates, working towards early prevention is necessary. Studies have shown that improved physical activity and better sleep for young children combined with limited sedentary behavior resulted in lower body fat as they age.

Recommendations Based on Age

Because children develop so rapidly within their first five years, the recommendations have been split into various age groups to benefit each stage.

For Children Less than 1 Year Old: While it may seem strange to think about physical activity for a baby, it is extremely important. WHO recommends infants should be physically active multiple times a day in various ways, including floor-based play and a minimum of 30 minutes of tummy time. An infant should not be restrained in a stroller, high chair, or in a baby carrier for more than an hour at a time, but in instances of long periods of sitting, reading or storytelling should be utilized over any screen time. In fact, no screens should be given to this age group at all. In terms of sleep, infants 3 months and under should get 14 to 17 hours of quality sleep daily, including naps, and those 4 – 11 months should receive 12 to 16 hours.

For Children 1 to 2 Years Old: WHO guidelines recommend this age group should get at least 180 minutes per day of physical activity focused on active play, not structured exercise. Much like infants, they should not be restrained for more than an hour at a time and screen time is still not recommended for 1-year-olds, but may be limited to an hour per day for 2-year-olds. This age group should be getting between 11 and 14 hours of quality sleep per day, including naps.

For Children 3 to 4 Years Old: Children in this age group should still be getting at least 180 minutes of physical activity per day, but at least 60 minutes of that time need to involve moderate- to vigorous-intensity activities, such as outdoor games with running or jumping. While screen time is permitted, it should still be limited to only one hour per day. Children should be getting 10 to 13 hours of quality sleep, although at this age, it may or may not include a nap.

Using the New Guidelines

As a parent or guardian, keep these recommendations in mind as you plan out daily routines and schedules. When too many activities are jammed into the week, weekends turn into lazy days for children who just feel like they are too exhausted. Dr. Jennifer Shu, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, encourages making sleep and physical activity a priority, stating that, “By working on those aspects first, screen time and sedentary behaviors should naturally stay fairly low.”

If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s health based on the new WHO recommendations, contact us today. Your child’s health is our top priority and we will help you provide them with a strong foundation for life.