WHO urges more physical activities for children

Thursday, April 25, 2019

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WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) — The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday urged Caribbean parents not to allow their toddlers to spend no more than 60 minutes passively watching a screen every day, while babies under 12 months should have none.

It said this is to ensure that they grow up fit and well, as the international organisation launched its campaign to tackle the global obesity crisis.

The UN health agency, which has made recommendations specifically aimed at children under five years of age for the first time, said that an estimated 40 million children around the globe are overweight.

The guidelines, which refer to passive activities such as watching cartoons, for example, as opposed to going online to talk to a grandparent, build on data gathered in several countries which show that as many as 75 per cent of children do not have healthy lifestyles.

“That takes a moment to think about,” said Dr Fiona Bull, a programme manager at WHO's Department of Prevention of Non-communicable Diseases.

“Children under five who seem to be running around and busy all day and certainly tiring their parents, may not be as active as we think.”

In addition to screen time recommendations for very young children, the WHO says that they should be physically active several times a day and get lots of sleep.

“More is better,” the WHO report maintains, suggesting that caregivers should engage in interactive floor-based play and ensure that babies who are not yet walking spend at least 30 minutes on their stomach, rather than sitting in a chair.

“The advice is, where possible, to move from sedentary, passive screen time to more physical activity, while at the same time protecting that very important quality sleep,” said Dr Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity.

“And what's particularly important is that quality interactive play with a caregiver, that's so important for early childhood development… that sedentary time should also be protected.”

The WHO said children aged one to four years old should be active for at least 180 minutes throughout the day and cites walking, crawling, running, jumping, balancing, climbing, dancing, riding wheeled toys, cycling, and jumping rope as suitable pastimes.

It said for three to four-year-olds, 60 minutes of this activity should be of “moderate-to-vigorous intensity”, noting that around the world, five million people die annually because they are not active enough.

“Sedentary behaviours, whether riding motorised transport rather than walking or cycling, sitting at a desk in school, watching TV or playing inactive screen-based games are increasingly prevalent and associated with poor health outcomes,” said the WHO's guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep recommendations for children under five years old.

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