Singapore launches 24-hour activity guideline to improve the health of children and teens

The guidelines stem from a study which polled 100 parents of children aged five to 14 last November.
The guidelines stem from a study which polled 100 parents of children aged five to 14 last November.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Guidelines to promote healthy lifestyle habits were launched on Friday (Jan 8) after it was found that young people spent too much time on screens, got inadequate sleep and did not exercise enough.

The guidelines give parents and kids step-by-step suggestions on how to strike a balance between using devices like phones and laptops and undertaking more physical activity.

They stem from international guidelines and a local survey conducted by KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), which polled 100 parents of children aged five to 14 years old last November.

It noted that 43 per cent did not do any vigorous physical activity, while 32 per cent did not engage in any moderate activity. This was coupled with sedentary behaviour, with 25 per cent spending more than 10 waking hours a day seated for prolonged periods.

In addition, the children were also spending too much time on their screens; 20 per cent clocked up more than four hours a day, double the recommended amount.

The survey also found that 70 per cent of the parents polled were concerned about their children's screen time, yet 41 per cent were unaware of the recommended screen hours.

These insights prompted healthcare professionals to develop a set of guidelines for daily activities over a 24-hour period.

One guideline encourages children to engage in a variety of light physical activities throughout the day and to undertake an average of one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity each day.

The new recommendations, which complement guidelines established in 2013 on physical and sedentary behaviour among children and adolescents, also include recent research on the effectiveness of practising light physical activity and adopting good eating and sleeping habits.

The guidelines were launched at the Asia Pacific Maternal and Child Metabolic Health Conference and Integrated Platform for Research in Advancing Metabolic Health Outcomes (Ipramho) of Women and Children International Meeting 2021 at KKH.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Communications and Information, was the guest of honour at the conference.

Dr Benny Loo, a consultant at KKH's general paediatrics and sports medicine services and chairman of the guidelines' workgroup, said at the event: "Research shows that adopting healthy lifestyle habits at a young age sets the stage for becoming healthy adults, reducing risks for metabolic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes mellitus and obesity.

"This set of guidelines help to promote a structured and comprehensive approach in organising a child's 24-hour day of physical activities, sedentary time, and sleep, to optimise his or her health outcomes in the long run."

The guidelines will be provided to healthcare providers, who can then direct the appropriate options to their patients, he added.

Dr Loo said that providing a time frame of 24 hours helps to inculcate in children the idea that these are small, daily steps that they have to take to reach the goal of a healthier life.

The guidelines were developed by a workgroup comprising the KKH-led Ipramho and the College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the Academy of Medicine Singapore, in partnership with Exercise is Medicine Singapore, Sports Medicine Association, Singapore, Perinatal Society of Singapore, Singapore Paediatric Society and College of Family Physicians Singapore and Singapore Medicine Association.

Educator Mislia Supar, 45, said the prevalence of e-learning has made it difficult to manage the screen time of her three children, aged six, 10 and 11.

She hopes the guidelines can help her to strike a good balance between e-learning and leisure time on their devices, and allow them to understand the impact of having too much screen time.