The World Health Organisation advises that children under five get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy.
According to new guidelines issued by the WHO on Wednesday, children under five must spend less time sitting and watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats.
It said that if healthy physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep habits were established early in life, this helps shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.
Failure to meet current physical activity recommendations is responsible for over five million deaths globally each year across all age groups.
The WHO said the pattern of overall 24-hour activity was key in replacing prolonged restrained or sedentary screen time with more active play, while making sure young children get enough good-quality sleep.
Applying the recommendations in these guidelines during the first five years of life will contribute to children’s motor and cognitive development and lifelong health, it said.
It said: “Quality sedentary time spent in interactive non-screen-based activities with a caregiver, such as reading, storytelling, singing and puzzles, is very important for child development.
“The guideline recommends that infants less (less than one year) should be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactivity, including floor-based play; more is better.
“For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake.
“Screen time is not recommended but when sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
“They should have 14 to 17 hours (0–3 months of age) or 12 to 16hrs (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.’’
The recommendation said children of one to two years should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day.
It said: “They should not be restrained for more than one hour at a time or sit for extended periods of time.
“For one-year-olds, sedentary screen time such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games is not recommended.
“For those aged two years, sedentary screen time should be no more than one hour and when sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.
“It is recommended they have 11 to14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.”
Children three to four years of age should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities spread throughout the day and more is better.
It said: “It is recommended that they have 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.”
Dr Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity, said: “What we really need to do is bring back play for children”.
He added: “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep.’’
Also, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said: “Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives”.
“Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains, Ghebreyesus said in the WHO statement.