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01 Dec 2017

New national guidelines on physical activity, sedentary time and sleep for young children have been launched by Health Minster Greg Hunt.

Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (Birth to Five Years): An Integration of Physical Activity, Sedentary Time and Sleep differs from the previous guidelines in covering the entire day, including recommendations on how to help children get good quality sleep. 

The Guidelines also provide ideas and examples of how to incorporate adequate movement in an infant, toddler or preschooler’s day – and how parents can fit these into their own busy days.  

Mr Hunt said following the Guidelines was associated with better growth, stronger muscles and bones, better learning and thinking, better mental, emotional and social well-being, better motor skills, healthier weight, as well as reduced injuries.

The 24-Hour Movement Guidelines have been developed by experts across Australia with input from national and international stakeholders, and in partnership with Canada, which developed the world’s first 24-hour movement guidelines.

University of Wollongong (UOW) early childhood expert Professor Tony Okely, who led the project to update the guidelines for the Health Department said the decision to include sleep recognised its importance in optimising health, development and learning. 

“Sleep plays an essential role in a child’s growth and development and shares an interrelated relationship with physical activity,” he said. 

“If a child receives good quality sleep, they will have the energy to be active, and an active child is a well-rested child.

“These Guidelines also acknowledge that the whole day matters and individual movement behaviours, such as physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep need to be considered in relation to each other when examining their associations with health and developmental outcomes in children.”

Limited access to sedentary screen time is also an important part of the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines. The recommendation of no sedentary screen time for children under two, and no more than one hour for those older than two.

“Screen time while sitting can counteract the health benefits of physical activity, leading to language delays, reduced attention, lower levels of school readiness and poorer decision-making,” Professor Okely said.

“The revised Guidelines incorporate the effects of screen time on a child’s growth and development and provide recommendations to parents or carers in how to mitigate these effects through an emphasis on increasing movement, and limiting sedentary behaviour and use of screens. 

“A child can do sufficient physical activity to meet the guidelines, yet still be considered sedentary if they spend a large amount of their day sitting, lying down or restrained, especially in front of a screen.  

“When a child is sedentary, try to incorporate quality behaviours such as reading, storytelling, playing with playdough and puzzles into their routine to enhance their cognitive development.”

The Guidelines also recommend that all screen use at these ages be educational. 

Professor Okely says that meant co-viewing with a child, discussing content, and using it in ways that help a child make understandings of the world around them, such as to investigate, problem solve, create knowledge.

Other notable changes from the previous Guidelines include a recommendation for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity included as part of the 180 minutes of total physical activity per day recommended for preschoolers.

30 minutes of tummy time for infants (spread over the day) is also a part of the new recommendations.

More information on the Guidelines can be found on the Department of Health’s website: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines.

MEREDITH HORNE


Published: 01 Dec 2017