Limit Screen Time for Children Under Five, Says WHO

Such limited screen time seems almost impossible for busy parents who, understandably, rely on digital devices for connecting with long-distance relatives, getting a moment of peace, or helping with their children's education and development.

For infants, less than one year, screen time is not recommended at all.

"Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life", says Dr Fiona Bull, programme manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases, at WHO.

"It induces a real conflict, the more guidelines we give, it just seems like there's going to be more of a mismatch between what experts say ... and what it feels like to be a parent in the real world every day." says Jenny Radesky of the University of MI.

One key note was that technologies which discourage breaks, such as YouTube's autoplay feature, should be limited and monitored, as young children don't have the requisite self control to interact with these features in a healthy way.

The WHO says babies should be screen-free during their first year and have only minimal screen access in their second year.

In recommendations specifically aimed at under-fives for the first time, the United Nations health agency said that about 40 million children around the globe - around six per cent of the total - are overweight.

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What are your initial reactions to the WHO's new guidelines?

The U.N. health agency said Wednesday that kids under 5 should not spend more than one hour watching screens every day - and that less is better.

The new guidelines come on the heels of an expanding body of research on the effects of screens on early childhood development.

Unfortunately, parents today hand over phones readily to children to stop them from crying. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests to make an exception to allow live video chatting, and that children closer to 2 may benefit from occasionally viewing educational videos, but overall suggests "parents should prioritize creative, unplugged play time for infants and toddlers". The organization also provides a tool to help families develop a media plan.

Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups. And these good habits must be ingrained in children right from childhood. "This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep".

"What we really need to do is bring back play for children", adds Dr Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity.

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