WHO Releases New Guidelines for Activity Levels for Children Younger Than Five

WHO Releases New Guidelines for Activity Levels for Children Younger Than Five

The new standards focus on the amount of physical activity, sedentary time, and sleep children should be getting.

On April 24, The World Health Organization announced new recommendations for children younger than the age of 5 in response to the rapidly rising rates of childhood obesity worldwide. According to the organization’s research, more than 80 percent of adolescents are not getting enough physical activity. It recommends establishing healthy habits early in life to avoid complications later, including disease and obesity.

“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” says WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.” These habits include more physical activity, more enriching sedentary activities, and good quality sleep.

The WHO recommends children younger than 1 year:

  • spend at least 30 minutes on their stomachs whilst awake and engage in as much interactive play as possible.
  • sleep 14-17 hours a day for ages 3 months or younger. 
  • sleep 12-16 hours for children ages 4-11 months.
  • Avoid screens until the child is at least 2 years old.

For children ages 1-4, the WHO suggests:

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  • a minimum of 3 hours of physical activity with more exercise preferred if possible.
  • Less than 1 hour on screens, with an emphasis on less time being better for 2- to 4-year-olds.
  • engaging in more intellectually stimulating activities with their caregivers, such as story time, singing, and playing with puzzles.
  • 11-14 hours of sleep for toddlers.
  • 10-13 hours of sleep for preschoolers.

For sedentary activities, it’s recommended that children younger than 5 not be restrained in strollers, seats, or secured to their parents’ chests for more than 1 hour a day. This does not mean children should be unbuckled from their stroller after 1 hour, but rather implies that time spent in strollers or vehicles that require restraints be limited.

“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” says Dr. Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity. “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep. “