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World Health Organization Recommends No More Than One Hour of Screen Time for Most Children Under 5

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By Guest Blogger Sasha Jones

The World Health Organization issued guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep for children under 5 years old on Wednesday, including its first recommendations on how much time children should be spending in front of a digital screen.

Children ages 2 to 4 should have no more than one hour of sedentary screen time, such as playing video games or watching TV, according to the WHO report.

Infants under 1 year old should not be restrained for more than an hour at a time—including in a stroller or high chair—and should not be getting any screen time at all, according to the recommendations.  

Instead, infants should be physically active through floor-based play, including at least 30 minutes of tummy time throughout the day for those not yet mobile. Children over 1 should be physically active for at least three hours a day, with 3- to 4-year-olds spending at least an hour of that time participating in moderate to vigorous activity.

WHO's guidelines are similar to those issued in 2016 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which discourage electronic media use for children under 18 months, and limit screen times for children ages 2 to 5 to one hour a day of high-quality programs.

"Physical inactivity has been identified as a leading risk factor for global mortality and a contributor to the rise in overweight and obesity," the WHO report says. "Early childhood is a period of rapid physical and cognitive development and a time during which a child's habits are formed and family lifestyle habits are open to changes and adaptations."

Previous studies have linked screen time among children and adolescents to the premature thinning of the cortex and low cognitive skills among children.

According to an Education Week Research Center survey of over 500 principals and school leaders, 95 percent said they worry that students spend too much time on devices when they are not in school.

Additionally, while schools have seen an increase in digital device usage in the classroom, principals disagree over whether such technology usage is enough or too much. Among elementary principals, 22 percent said that students didn't spend enough time in schools on devices with screens, but 23 percent of high school principals characterized in-school screen time as too much.

Photo courtesy of Getty.

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