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WHO report: a new take on 'freedom of movement'

In these BREXIT days, the new WHO report provides a new, scientific, take on ‘freedom of movement’. WHO confirm that more young children need to be made ‘free’ to move every day.

WHO report a new take on freedom of movement

It also reminds us that this is the responsibility of parents and guardians. Importantly, this sits very favourably alongside the wider evidence of what matters to children’s welfare; that parents - and surrounding adults - matter in children's lives. For many, this report also shows how soon curtailed 'freedom of movement' shows its ugly side, when even quite small things are amiss.

The report modernises and widens the idea of ‘engaged parenting’. Our adult-centred concern for sleeping (or not) and moving (or not) is now confirmed as being every bit as important to our under-5s as ourselves. The reasons might differ, but it holds that what’s good for us (as adults) is good for them (as toddlers). WHO confirm that movement is vital to children’s development and well-being. In comparative terms, daily physical movement is up there with being read to at bedtime. Limiting exposure to passive ‘electronic’ entertainment equates to showing a genuine interest in a child's progress at school. Sleep is reframed as a powerful guarantor of brain development that only works with sufficient hours of sleep. So, as in adults, with too little sleep comes inadequate brain development.

Of course, with toddlers no-one can reasonably explain inactivity using the old chestnut that they 'lack of motivation'. Wider, systemic explanations are more appropriate. The report provides systemic guidance to parents living modern lives, characterised by systems that require long working hours, limited family time and sleep deprivation. It reminds us that parental surrogates have these problems too. Those people, who run services where kids are sent when we go to work, often don't help kids with 'freedom of movement' any better than we do.

Of course, anything from the World Health Organisation will have limited relevance to given individuals. Indeed, it is unwise to think that this report offers a direct commentary to any parent. Every child needs opportunities to choose activity, more than they need to be moved by someone else. They benefit more from being in places that encourage active, rather than passive, engagement. Finally, they profit from routines that ensure adequate hours of sleep every day. The report reminds us that every adults’ job is to provide opportunities, encouragement and routines so that, every day, more under-5s remain free to move.

Read the World Health Organisation Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age here.

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Professor James McKenna

Jim McKenna is Carnegie Professor of Physical Activity and Health and Head of the Active Lifestyles Research Centre in the Carnegie Faculty.

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