Get Up & Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood - Staff and Carer Book

Sedentary behaviour and screen-time

Page last updated: 25 May 2011

‘Sedentary behaviour’ is a term used to describe time spent doing physically inactive tasks that do not require a lot of energy. Watching television is a common childhood sedentary activity. Children who spend long periods of time inactive are more likely to have poorer physical, social and intellectual development. Planning and encouraging physical activity during the time children are awake is an important part of promoting a healthy lifestyle. Limiting long periods of time where children are inactive is just as important as making sure they do enough activity.

Sedentary tasks can be grouped as either ‘productive’ or ‘non-productive’. Productive sedentary behaviour and quiet ‘down time’ are necessary for young children.

Non-productive sedentary behaviour:

  • Watching television and DVDs for leisure.
  • Playing screen games such as handheld, video or computer games.
  • Being restrained for long periods of time, such as in a car seat, high chair, porta-cot or stroller.

Productive sedentary behaviour:

  • Reading, listening to stories or looking at books.
  • Quiet play, such as art and craft activities, drawing and puzzles.
  • Sleeping.

Recommendation

Children younger than two years of age should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games).

Why no screen-time for children under two?

Babies should not be restrained or kept inactive (during awake time) for long periods, especially in front of the television. Before babies can walk, they need plenty of time to practise movements such as reaching, kicking and feeling. As babies become more mobile and start crawling and walking, they continue to need plenty of time to move freely and creatively, practise new movements, and play with others.

Screen-time is not recommended for babies and children less than two years of age, particularly in the early childhood setting, because it may:
  • reduce the amount of time they have for active play, social contact with others and chances for language development
  • affect the development of the full range of eye movement
  • reduce the length of time they can stay focused.

Recommendation

For children two to five years of age, sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games) should be limited to less than one hour per day.

Why limit screen-time for two-to five-year-olds?

Most children will be exposed to screen-time at home, and for many children this will be excessive. In the early childhood setting, it may be decided that screen-time is not included in the program, or only limited to special occasions.
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In toddlers and pre-schoolers, long periods of screen-time have been associated with:
  • less active, outdoor and creative play time
  • an increased risk of being overweight
  • unhealthy eating habits
  • poorer social skills
  • fewer opportunities to develop thinking skills
  • slower development of language skills and short-term memory
  • television-viewing habits that may continue throughout childhood.

Recommendation

Infants, toddlers and per-schoolers shuold not be sedentary, restrained or kept inactive for more than one hour at a time with the exception of sleeping.

Sometimes children are left inactive for longer than they ought to be, in places such as high chairs, strollers or car seats. Even during outdoor play time, some children may stay inactive.

Young children who have adults to interact with during play are more likely to be active. Be prepared to join in with play and help less active children be more active during play time. This can include encouraging children to:
  • walk or pedal instead of always being in a stroller or car seat
  • help with packing up toys, clothes or shopping
  • play with simple items, such as buckets, dress-up clothes or old boxes and containers
  • make big movements and try new things
  • play outdoors during daylight hours.

Children from all cultures

Different cultures may have different values and traditions concerning sedentary behaviour and down time. When working with families from different cultures:
  • Find out what they do for quiet or down time.
  • Ask parents to provide quiet games and books that are representative of their culture.
  • Inform families about screen-time and physical inactivity recommendations.
Recommendations summary for birth to five years Birth - 1 year 1 - 2 years 2 - 3 years 3 - 5 years
Physical activity recommendation Physical activity should be encouraged from birth Should be physically active every day for at least three hours, spread throughout the day. Should be physically active every day for at least three hours, spread throughout the day. Should be physically active every day for at least three hours, spread throughout the day.
Sedentary recommendation - screen-time Should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games). Should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games). Sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games). Sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic medai (DVDs, computer and other electronic games) should be limited to less than one hour per day.
Sedentary recommendation - prolonged inactivity Should not be sedentary, restrained or kept inactive for more than one hour at a time, with the exception of sleeping. Should not be sedentary, restrained or kept inactive for more than one hour at a time, with the exception of sleeping. Should not be sedentary, restrained or kept inactive for more than one hour at a time, with the exception of sleeping. Should not be sedentary, restrained or kept inactive for more than one hour at a time, with the exception of sleeping.