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Stop letting babies watch TV, begs World Health Organization

Published Apr 24th, 2019 11:07PM EDT
child screen time
Image: Alex Segre/REX/Shutterstock

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The occasional Netflix binge might seem like a harmless distraction to you and me, but the World Health Organization says those same personal standards should never be applied to babies and toddlers. In a new report, WHO insists that sedentary behavior in children up to five years of age puts them at a dramatically increased risk of developing habits links to obesity and all the nasty health effects that come with it.

Previous WHO guidance on “screen time” for children had already placed restrictions on the amount of sedentary time young children should spend watching TV and playing with gadgets like smartphones and tablets. These low-energy activities contribute to poor health, it’s thought, and now the guidelines have become even more strict.

“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”

The group cites increasingly troubling statistics regarding not just childhood obesity but the risks of sedentary lifestyles among adults. WHO says nearly a quarter of adults and a whopping 80 percent of adolescents fail to meet the minimum physical activity recommendations, and the thought is that these habits begin early in life and can be hard to break once an already-unhealthy individual reaches adulthood.

So what should kids be doing if not staring at a digital screen? WHO has some ideas:

The pattern of overall 24-hour activity is key: replacing prolonged restrained or sedentary screen time with more active play, while making sure young children get enough good-quality sleep. 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.

A full list of individual recommendations based on age can be found on the organization’s website.

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