This week the World Health Organisation has updated some of their recommendations for children under five. What we’ve found curious is how the updated guidelines have been reported by the popular press. For instance BBC News lead with “No sedentary screen time for babies, WHO says”, Nursery World state “Guidance recommends no screen time for under-twos” and The Sun sensationalises the report with the warning that “Kids under two should never be allowed to watch ANY screens – or they’ll get fat, WHO warns”. We’ve considered before on the blog how newspapers are fuelling a moral panic about children’s media use and we don’t dispute that young children do watch television. Yet recommendations about children’s screen time only made up a small part of the WHO’s updated 36-page guidance, which altogether focuses on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children aged under five. The report makes for interesting reading.
For children in three age categories (under one, one-two years old and three-four years old) the World Health Organisation gives guidance on how much time children should be spending on three areas – physical activity, sedentary screen time and good quality sleep. They state that their guidelines are for all healthy children “irrespective of gender, cultural background or socio-economic status of families and are relevant for children of all abilities” (2019; viii). Many pieces of research have been taken into account when devising the guidelines, although some people have criticised the recommendations because there are still gaps in research about children’s physical activity, which the WHO themselves acknowledge.
Parents and practitioners may now be questioning how to ensure they are following the updated guidelines. In some cases, they may find the guidance useful, as it is does give exact amounts of time that children should be devoting to activities. For instance, the report states that children under one should engage in at least 30 minutes of tummy time per day, whereas NHS guidance on tummy time is slightly more woolly. However, the advice that children under five should not be restrained for more than an hour at a time (whether that be in prams, car seats or baby carriers) might be daunting for those with circumstances where that is unfeasible, for instance because of long work commutes.
We’d encourage you to have a look at the new guidelines for yourself to see what you think. Do you think they are a useful tool for parents and practitioners to improve children’s physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep habits? Will you be changing your practices with children as a result of this new report?