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WHO says children under 1 should spend no time watching screens

‘Less is better’ when it comes to screen time for young children, the organization says

Photo (c) Nadezhda1906 - Getty Images
Children under five should spend no more than one hour watching screens every day and infants under 1 should get no screen time at all, according to new guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO).

In its first-ever guidance on the issue of screen time and physical activity for kids, the agency said it’s crucial to ensure that children’s days are filled with plenty of active play and adequate amounts of high-quality sleep.

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

The agency said that while sedentary screen time should ideally be replaced with more active play, “quality” sedentary activities can be highly beneficial to a child’s development. Interactive, non-screen-based activities such as reading, storytelling, singing, and puzzles are just a few examples of quality sedentary activities that caregivers can initiate.

Activity guidance for infants

To set the stage for healthy development, the agency recommends that parents and caregivers of infants under the age of 1 limit the amount of time a baby is restrained in a stroller, high chair, or strapped on a caregiver’s back to one hour at a time.

Infants less than one should be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, the agency said, noting that “more is better” when it comes to interactive, floor-based play.

Babies who aren’t yet mobile should get at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day while they are awake. The organization encourages caregivers to engage in reading and storytelling when babies are sedentary.

At this age, screen time is not recommended at all, WHO said.

Activity guidance for 1-2 year olds

Babies in the 1- to 2-year old age group should spend at least three hours per day engaged in “a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity,” according to the guidance.

Children in this age bracket also shouldn’t be restrained for more than one hour at a time in a stroller, high chair, or strapped on a caregiver’s back.

Sedentary screen time isn’t recommended for one-year-olds. For two-year-olds, it should be limited to less than an hour.  

Activity guidance for 3-4 year olds

Like 1-2-year olds, preschool-aged children should also spend at least three hours engaged in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity. The agency recommends that at least 60 minutes of that time be moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity.

No more than an hour at a time should be spent restrained in a stroller, and sedentary screen time should be capped at 1 hour.

Sleep recommendations

Emphasizing the fact that there are important interactions between physical activity and sufficient amounts of sleep, the agency recommends that young children get the following amounts of sleep per day:

  • Less than one year old: 14–17 hours (0–3 months of age) or 12–16 hours (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.

  • One to two years old. 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

  • Three to four years old. 10–13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

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