Don't expose babies to electronic screens, says WHO

Children at a smartphone shop in Seoul in 2017. Playing computer games is one type of sedentary screen time

Children at a smartphone shop in Seoul in 2017. Playing computer games is one type of sedentary screen time

In these guidelines, screen time refers to passively watching entertainment on a screen, such as on a television, computer or mobile device.

And for children aged three to four, three hours of daily physical activity should include at least an hour of "moderate to vigorous" movement, while screen time should be kept under an hour.

"Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people's lives", said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that children under five must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy.

Children in this age group should not be restrained for more than an hour at a time, according to the guidelines.

Childhood is the time when children have fun exploring the neighbourhood, and not be glued to their gadgets!

"It's important to make sure kids aren't spending too much time in front of screens, but we need a comprehensive national discussion about how to ensure children and teens' health and wellness as their technology use increases", Markey said in a statement Wednesday after the release of the WHO guidelines.

"It is very much the passive screen time", she told reporters in Geneva.

The guidelines were issued in light of a growing body of research into the effects of screen time on kids. Is WHO's recommendation sensible or unrealistic? Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for more than 5 million deaths globally each year across all age groups.

Instead, "when sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged", the organisation said of young children. Children aged one to two years old should spend at least 180 minutes being active and 11 to 14 hours sleeping, the report states.

In its first-ever guidance on screen time and children, World Health Organization also says no child younger than 1 year old should see a screen at all. Features that discourage breaks, such as YouTube's default "auto-play" feature, are a frequent source of complaint among consumer advocates who say technology companies are encouraging compulsive behavior by children who lack adult self-control.

As for 3-4 years olds, even then screen time should be seriously limited.

Concerns about screen time begin well before children start reaching for their parents' iPads and smartphones, said Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University and the author of "Cribsheet: a Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting".

In Canada, screen time for children younger than two is not recommended. If healthy physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep habits are established early in life, this helps shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood, the agency said.

The guidelines emphasised that young kids need be physically active and get enough sleep.

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