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New international guidelines safeguarding children’s vision

01/05/2019By Callum Glennen
The World Health Organization (WHO) has for the first time issued recommendations regarding children’s use of electronic screens, including that those under the age of one should have no exposure at all to screens.

The recommendations made by WHO are almost identical to the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines issued by the Federal Government in 2017, which were developed by a team of experts across Australian and Canada led by University of Wollongong early childhood expert Professor Tony Okely.

The guidelines are part of a broader series of recommendations designed to address issues such as inadequate sleep and the effects of prolonged time spent sedentary. The panel also reviewed the benefits of spending more time physically active.

The WHO now recommends that children under the age of one should be physically active several times per day in a variety of different ways, including at least 30 minutes in the prone position. Screen time is recommended against, with reading and storytelling suggested as alternative activities when not physically active.

For children over the age of one, at least 180 minutes per day of physical activity is recommended. For children two years of age and over sedentary screen time per day should be no more than one hour, though less is better.

The WHO also recommends that children under five should also not be restrained, such as in high chairs or prams, for more than one hour at a time.

Juana Willumsen, WHO
Juana Willumsen, WHO
"This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep"
Juana Willumsen, WHO

A gradually decreasing schedule of sleep is also recommended, and that children between 0 and three months should get between 14 and 17 hours of sleep per day. Between 10 and 13 hours of sleep per day is recommended for children between three and four.

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

The focus of the recommendations is not specifically to reduce screen time among children, but rather increase playtime instead. The WHO claims that establishing healthy levels of sleep, physical activity and sleep early can improve health later in life and reduce the 5 million deaths globally attributed to a lack of physical activity.

“What we really need to do is bring back play for children,” says Dr Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity. “This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep.”

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Overall, the WHO suggests a varied pattern of activity over a 24-hour period while minimising screen time leads to healthier child development.

At the release of the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines in 2017, Optometry Australia announced it supported the guidelines, and that less screen time will play a role in safeguarding children’s vision and protecting against myopia.


More reading:

Optometry Australia backs new ‘screen time’ guidelines



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