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Kids need more movement, less screen time in school, report suggests

Kids need more movement, less screen time in school, report suggests
New guidance for teachers and educators recommends more movement and less screen time for children. Photo by mirkosajkov/Pixabay

April 5 (UPI) -- Teachers and school leaders should break up periods in which pupils are sedentary for extended periods with scheduled and unscheduled "movement breaks," experts said in a report released Tuesday.

These breaks should occur at least once every 30 minutes for children ages 5 to 11 years and at least once every hour for those ages 12 to 18 years, and can consist of stretching, moving to another classroom or active lessons, the experts said.

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In addition, teachers should incorporate different types of movement, such as "light" activities that require movement of different body parts and moderate to vigorous activities that require greater physical effort, into homework whenever possible, they said.

They also suggest limiting "sedentary" homework, or schoolwork that requires students to sit for extended periods to complete, to no more than 10 minutes per day, per grade level.

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These and other recommendations are included in the International School-Related Sedentary Behavior Recommendations for Children and Youth report, issued Tuesday.

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The report is designed to guide students, educators, school administrators, policymakers, parents and guardians, caregivers, physicians and other healthcare providers in the promotion of student health and wellness among young people, its authors said.

"High levels of sedentary behavior, especially screen time, are associated with negative health and academic outcomes for school-aged children and youth," one of the authors, Travis Saunders, said in a press release.

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"With screen time taking on an increasingly important role for many students since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these new evidence-based recommendations are timely," said Saunders, an associate professor of applied human sciences at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Research has suggested that young people have spent more time using screen devices such as tablets or computers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, which has led to a corresponding decline in physical activity levels.

This was particularly true during the early months of the pandemic, in 2020, when many schools in the United States and around the world were closed to limit the spread of the virus, studies have found.

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However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most children were not meeting public health guidelines for sedentary behaviors and recreational screen time, according to Saunders.

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Developed by an international team of 148 experts on physical fitness, education and health from 23 countries known as the Sedentary Behavior Research Network, the new report's recommendations were published Tuesday by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

In addition to recommendations for regular movement and physical activity, the report also emphasizes that any school-related screen time for homework or student-teacher interaction should be "meaningful, mentally or physically active and serve" an educational purpose.

Even when school-related screen time is warranted, educators should strive to limit time spent on devices, especially for children ages 5 to 11 years, the authors said.

Teachers should also "discourage media-multitasking in the classroom" and while doing homework, they said.

Children and their parents should also take steps to ensure that any "screen-based homework" is completed at least one hour before bedtime, according to the authors.

Finally, replacing screen-based learning activities with non-screen-based learning activities such as outdoor lessons can further support students' health and well-being, the report authors said.

"The goal of these recommendations is to help maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of school-related sedentary behaviors," report co-author Dr. Mark Tremblay said in a press release.

"These new recommendations will help schools be part of the solution," said Tremblay, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa in Canada.

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