Turn off, switch to play

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Kids-‘Go for your life’ proposes that all children aged 0-12 years need to “Turn OFF, switch to
play” and therefore engage less in sedentary behaviour. Children need to be more physically
active and occupied in more active play.

Limit sedentary behaviour
Sedentary behaviour, or inactivity, can be described as time spent in tasks requiring minimal
energy expenditure. Many different types of sedentary behaviour exist. For example in older
children, sedentary behaviour can be productive (e.g. homework, sensible sleeping hours) and
non-productive (e.g. electronic games and long unnecessary sleep-ins) 1. Electronic media are the
most scrutinised forms of sedentary behaviour and can include, but are not limited to, television,
DVDs, console games, computers and hand-held electronic games.

These sedentary activities can be associated with a number of different problems including:

- unhealthy food intake and prompts to eat beyond satiety2
- inactivity taking priority over times to be active3,4
- insufficient energy expenditure3
- displaced time for creative play4, 5
- social isolation6
- compromised time in outdoor activity7
- decreased opportunities for development of emotional intelligence4 ( e.g. empathy, flexibility,
decision making, self-awareness and self-regulation.)
- compromised musculoskeletal posture8

Less screen time, more PLAY
Frequently guidelines quantify the amount of physical activity that children should undertake and
outline the limitations for sedentary behaviour.9,10

Australia’s recommendations for physical activity in children aged 5-12 years are:
- Children need at least 60 minutes (and up to several hours) of moderate to vigorous physical
activity every day9

- Children should not spend more than two hours each day using electronic media for
entertainment (e.g. computer games, television, internet), particularly during daylight hours9

Currently no Australian guidelines exist for physical activity for children under the age of five
years. However, North American guidelines from the National Association of Sport and Physical
Education (NASPE) are gaining international prominence. The guidelines10, shown in Table 1,
provide recommendations for toddlers’ and pre-schoolers’ everyday physical activity.
Table 1: NASPE guidelines for physical activity for toddlers and pre-schoolers
                  Structured Physical Activity            Unstructured Physical Activity
                             (daily)                                  (daily)
   Toddlers           At least 30 minutes                 60 minutes up to several hours
 Pre-schoolers        At least 60 minutes
N.B: Structured activity is usually organised, it may have rules and outcomes. (E.g. play groups
or swim lessons). Unstructured activity is less restricted and can include playing alone or with
friends, going for a walk or playing at a park.

In support of the NASPE guidelines, the American Academy of Pediatrics11 recommends no
more than 1-2 hours of quality TV and videos per day for children older than two years and no
screen time for children under the age of two years10.

Choose sedentary time wisely
Although controversial, homework can be part of sedentary behavior that parents and teachers
may see as vital to children’s education. Recommendations exist for the amount of homework
children can be expected to complete each night.

For children in years Prep to Grade 4, time spent doing homework should not exceed 30 minutes
per evening and should not be done on weekends, or during the holidays. For children in the
middle years of schooling the time spent engaging in homework will generally range from 30 to
45 minutes per evening at year 5 to 45 to 90 minutes per evening in Year 912.

A good balance of sedentary behaviour and activity is important
Television viewing is the most frequently researched form of sedentary behaviour. Parents report
the setting of limits to television viewing time can be a successful family-based strategy for
reducing sedentary time13 but the concept of restricting television viewing is now more readily
extended to all screen time14. A useful indicator of a child’s risk of poor diet and low physical
activity level can be linked to responses of questions regarding hours of television viewing15. The
“Turn OFF, switch to play” message has emerged from studies recommending decreased
sedentary behaviour through limiting access to electronic devices during leisure time.

While several projects have targeted limits to sedentary behaviour in the school setting13, parents
are the recognised agents for change. Long-term interventions into weight management can be
successful when parents are targeted exclusively rather than parents and children in a session
together16 or children alone17. Empowering parents of overweight young people about setting
limits to sedentary time through a health-centered program rather than a program focused solely
on weight reduction may be beneficial for promoting the family’s healthy lifestyle.

It is important for parents to be good role models by leading an active lifestyle.
Parents and carers should share the responsibility of encouraging children to be physically active
and engage in active play everyday. It should be noted that as children get older, the role of a
parent or carer changes from being frequently active with very young children to supporting older
children’s involvement with outside activity such as ensuring children get to swimming lessons
or responsible support on the sidelines of a team sport.
Play is a risk worth taking
Given that decreasing sedentary time can be as successful as increasing physical activity for long-
term weight management benefits in children3, parents need to consider offering alternative
physical activity opportunities in place of non-productive inactive times.
Safety concerns about injury from physical activity may persuade parents to permit excessive
sedentary behaviour. Some parents may benefit from “risk reframing”. This involves an
understanding that greater health risks are in fact associated with sedentary behaviour rather than
being active. Young children’s perceptions of injury risk may be greater in girls than boys by six
years of age, even though boys are routinely more injured than girls18.Greater encouragement for
children to undertake physical activity in positive, successful environments may be necessary
before parents can successfully limit sedentary time.

Choose active transport as the choice of travel
Opportunities for active transport such as walking or riding a bike to school may not be an option
for a number of complex reasons (e.g. parents perception of importance of physical activity and
also distance from home to school) 19. In some studies active transport may be another strategy to
minimise sedentary behaviour in children20, but if transport to school cannot be an option,
families should seek other opportunities for active transport.

In pre-school children, guidelines warn about the consequences of the “strollerization” of young
children in preference to active transport to and from everyday venues10. It is important to make
active transport an everyday activity by walking or riding a bike. Encourage young children to
walk a little further each day before using the stroller

In summary, to prevent long periods of unnecessary sedentary time, healthy alternatives need to
become the preferred choice of children. Parents need to be the agents for the “Turn OFF, switch
to play” message, but their role can be facilitated by carers or agencies such as schools and
preschools who can implement policies to optimise physical activity opportunities every day.
[1]    Feldman DE, Barnett T, Shrier I, Rossignol M, Abenhaim L. Is physical activity
differentially associated with different types of sedentary pursuits? Archives of Pediatrics
& Adolescent Medicine. 2003;157(8):797-802.

[2]   Temple JL, Giacomelli AM, Kent KM, Roemmich JN, Epstein LH. Television
watching increases motivated responding for food and energy intake in children.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;85(2):355-61.

[3]    Epstein LH, Paluch RA, Gordy CC, Dorn J. Decreasing sedentary behaviors in
treating pediatric obesity. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

[4]   Burdette HL, Whitaker RC. Resurrecting free play in young children: looking
beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect. Archives of Pediatrics &
Adolescent Medicine. 2005;159(1):46-50.

[5]     Vandewater EA, Bickham DS, Lee JH. Time well spent? Relating television use
to children's free-time activities. Pediatrics. 2006;117(2):e181-91.

[6]    Strauss RS, Pollack HA. Social marginalization of overweight children. Archives
of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2003;157(8):746-52.

[7]     Klesges RC, Eck LH, Hanson CL, Haddock CK, Klesges LM. Effects of obesity,
social interactions, and physical environment on physical activity in preschoolers. Health
Psychology. 1990;9(4):435-49.

[8]   Kratěnová J, Žejglicová K, Malý M, Filipová V. Prevalence and Risk Factors of
Poor Posture in School Children in the Czech Republic The Journal of School Health.

[9]     Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing, Australia's Physical
Activity Recommendations for 5-12 year olds, Commonwealth of Australia, 2004.

[10] National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). Active Start: A
Statement of Physical Activity Guidelines for Children Birth to Five Years. 2002:

[11] American Academy of Pediatrics. Internet and media use. (2005)

[12] Department of Education, Victorian Government. Homework guidelines. 2002.

[13] Gortmaker SL, Peterson K, Wiecha J, Sobol AM, Dixit S, Fox MK, et al. Reducing
obesity via a school-based interdisciplinary intervention among youth: Planet Health.
Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 1999;153(4):409-18.

[14] UniSA. Children and Sport: Full report. Australian Sports Commision. Australian
Government. 2004.
[15] Salmon J, Campbell KJ, Crawford DA. Television viewing habits associated with
obesity risk factors: a survey of Melbourne schoolchildren. Medical Journal of Australia.

[16] Golan M, Kaufman V, Shahar DR. Childhood obesity treatment: targeting parents
exclusively v. parents and children. British Journal of Nutrition. 2006;95(5):1008-15.

[17] Israel A, Stolmaker L, Andrian C. The effects of training parents in general child
management skills on a behavioral weight loss program for children. Journal of
Behavioural Therapy. 1985;16:169- 80.

[18] Morrongiello BA, Midgett C, Stanton KL. Gender biases in children's appraisals of
injury risk and other children's risk-taking behaviors. Journal of Experimental Child
Psychology. 2000;77(4):317-36.

[19] Ziviani J, Scott J, Wadley D. Walking to school: incidental physical activity in the
daily occupations of Australian children. Occupational Therapy International.

[20] Rosenberg DE, Sallis JF, Conway TL, Cain KL, McKenzie TL. Active
transportation to school over 2 years in relation to weight status and physical activity.
Obesity. 2006;14(10):1771-6.

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