Children under age four should move at least 180 minutes a day, according to the first Canadian physical activity guidelines for that age group.
Parents and caregivers should also ban any time in front of tablets, TVs, computers or other screens, for toddlers under two. For those between two and four, screens should be turned off after a child has sat in front of one for 30 minutes a day.
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"It is crucial for parents and caregivers to give young children regular opportunities to move more, and it can be as simple as getting outdoors to explore the neighbourhood rather than sitting in front of the TV, or by playing on a mat, reaching, pushing or crawling, rather than keeping children idle in a high chair," Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of ParticipACTION, said Tuesday.
Adults may assume that young children are naturally busy and active, but measurements indicate they are sedentary — just sitting or reclining — up to 84 per cent of their waking hours.
By age five, kids should work toward at least 60 minutes of "energetic play," such as hopping, skipping or riding a bike with a helmet.
The Canadian Pediatric Society endorsed the guidelines and suggested that doctors:
- Monitor the physical activity levels of their patients and their patients' families.
- Evaluate healthy lifestyle choices.
- Offer appropriate counselling, such as prescriptions for physical activity to post at home, guiding families on how to build up to at least 60 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous activity.
The pediatric group also advocates for compulsory, quality, physical education every day for all students taught by qualified and trained teachers.
It urged municipalities to properly maintain playgrounds and bicycle paths to allow safer community walking and cycling and to keep green spaces clean to encourage healthy, active neighbourhoods.
"Developing and maintaining physical and social environments that encourage and enable physical activity in safe settings should be a priority for governments and communities," the document said.
"The implementation of quality physical education programs in schools should emphasize fun and help students to develop knowledge, positive attitudes, motor and behavioural skills, and the personal confidence and competence needed to adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle. Parents and caregivers should participate in school-led physical activity initiatives and sustain these efforts at home."
As many as 26 per cent of Canadian kids between two and 17 years old are now overweight or obese, which jumps to 41 per cent among First Nations children, the society noted.
To get kids moving active, the Healthy Active Living Obesity research group at the Children's Hospital for Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa suggested breaking up long car rides so children have a chance to move about once an hour.
The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology presented the guidelines with Participaction.