New Screen Time Recommendation for Young Children: Nothing to Very Little
New guidelines released by the World Health Organization call for at least 3 hours of physical activity a day and no more than 60 minutes of sedentary screen time a day for children ages 2 to 4. Babies and toddlers should not use screens at all. These guidelines, criticized for not delineating types of screen use, were designed to combat the global rise in obesity leading to higher mortality rates.
Reviewed on May 16, 2019
April 26, 2019
The World Health Organization (WHO) this week issued its first-ever guidelines for optimal physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep for children under the age of 51. To prevent obesity and associated diseases later in life, the WHO recommends keeping screens away from children under the age of 2 and allowing no more than one hour of daily screen time for children ages 2 to 4, who should also engage in physical activity for at least 3 hours each day.
In formulating their recommendations, WHO experts assessed scientific evidence on the adverse effects of inadequate sleep, time spent sitting watching screens, and time spent restrained in strollers or car seats. Its guidelines for age group were as follows:
- 0-1 years of age: Infants should be active several times a day and should not be restrained for more than an hour at a time. Babies 3 months or younger should get 14-17 hours of sleep per day and babies 4 to 11 months old should sleep for 12 to 16 hours per day. Screen time is not recommended for this age group.
- 1-2 years of age: Children should spend at least 180 minutes per day engaged in physical activity and should not be restrained for more than an hour. They should sleep 11 to 14 hours each day. Screen time is not recommended for 1 year olds and should be limited to an hour a day for 2 year olds.
- 3-4 years of age: Preschool children should also spend at least 180 a day engaged in physical activity, 60 minutes of which should be moderate to vigorous, and they should get 10-13 hours of quality sleep. Screen time should be limited to one hour a day.
These guidelines echo those of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which similarly recommends no screens for babies and toddlers, and no more than an hour a day for preschoolers. However, the AAP guidelines stress quality over quantity of screen time, arguing that young children should avoid video games and advertisements all together, and should instead use devices for video chats and educational programming like “Sesame Street.”
The WHO guidelines have earned criticism from pediatric experts who claim that not all screen time is equally harmful to kids. For example, Dr. Max Davie of Britain’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said “the restricted screen time limits suggested by WHO do not seem proportionate to the potential harm2.”
1 Guidelines on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior and Sleep for Children Under 5 Years of Age. World Health Organization (Apr. 2019). https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311664/9789241550536-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
2 UN: No screen time for babies; only 1 hour for kids under 5. Associated Press (Apr. 2019). https://apnews.com/407f5d418ab749fd9faa405251071715