Parents offered advice on exercise for under-5s

A toddler playing in the garden There are fears that many children are not getting enough exercise.

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For the first time government health experts are issuing advice to parents on exercise for children under five.

They say the amount of time babies and toddlers spend strapped in buggies or car seats should be cut down.

Instead, toddlers should be allowed to move around or be physically active for at least three hours a day.

The new guidance reflects growing concern over children who do not exercise enough, which can be linked to obesity and brain development.

Chief Medical Officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have come together to issue the new guidance.

It is the first time they have combined to issue UK-wide advice on exercise among the under-fives.

From birth

Their recommendations include encouraging babies to move about and be active from birth, for example on activity mats or swimming.

They say that all under-fives should spend as little time as possible being restrained or sitting still except when they are sleeping.

Start Quote

This matters to your child now, to their development through childhood and adolescence and to their disease profile in middle age and later life”

End Quote Dame Sally Davies Chief Medical Officer for England

And once a child can walk, they should be physically active and moving around for at least three hours a day.

Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, said all young children should be encouraged to be active.

"For children that are not yet walking, there is considerable international evidence that letting children crawl, play or roll around on the floor is essential during early years.

"Play that allows under-fives to move about is critical and three hours a day is essential.

"I think there are parents who are not aware how important it is for their children to be physically active for a minimum of three hours.

"Other parents are very busy and may not see how important it is to get that prioritisation and balance right.

Professor Dame Sally Davies: ''It is important to get at least three hours of unfettered physical activity a day for these children''

"So what I'm saying is this matters to your child now, to their development through childhood and adolescence and to their disease profile in middle age and later life."

According to the Department of Health, recent studies suggest that only about 30% of children in England between the age of two and 15 get the recommended amount of exercise.

'Huff and puff'

Most UK pre-school children currently spend between two and two-and-a-half hours a day being active.

'Active play' is described as something like using a climbing frame or riding a bike, running or chasing games, swimming or skipping - anything that makes a child 'huff and puff'.

For babies the advice is to let children crawl and roll on a mat, encouraging them to reach out and grab toys or taking them for a baby swimming lesson.

Start Quote

If a toddler spends too much time sitting passively in front of a TV then problems will be stored up for the future”

End Quote Professor Terence Stephenson Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

But the charity and campaign group The Children's Society says many parents need help in order to ensure their children get enough exercise.

Elaine Hindal, director of the Children's Society Campaign for Childhood, says: "Parents, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, need access to good quality low-cost play facilities, childcare and support from health visitors.

"Guidance is a step in the right direction, but real practical support for parents and families is badly needed.

"We are concerned that the government's welfare reforms and spending cuts will lead to parents being denied the opportunity to provide toddlers with necessary physical exercise."

But the guidance was welcomed by Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who said: "The early years shape every child's future.

"Physical activity is important from an early age - if a toddler spends too much time sitting passively in front of a TV then problems will be stored up for the future.

"These guidelines offer an excellent first step and an active childhood helps to lay the foundations for an adulthood with less risk of health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I don't get why we need to advertise things like this, I have two kids, 13 and 26 months and we don't have a garden, so I take my girls out to the park, the woods or the beach every day. They eat reasonably well and enjoy being out and about so we spend most time doing that. If we stay indoors and they're not active, they get bored and behave badly.

    Why do we need a study to tell us this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Move for three hours? Where do they find kids that will only be active for three hours? I want one of them....

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    My mum had me walking everywhere from the moment I learnt how to, she never bothered with cars or buses, she would pack the pram up and off we went. It was often to my aunts house a good 2/3 mile away and I would happily walk there and back. People need to realise that they don't have to use cars/buses just because they are there, set aside some extra time and enjoy a walk, simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    It a little sad that this is not obvious to everyone. And 3 hours only - we all want sleep and nothing makes for a good nights sleep like lots of running and playing during the day - no matter how young or old you are.


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