New WHO guidance: Very limited daily screen time recommended for children under 5

MAY 6, 2019 From

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending children under age 5 spend one hour or less on digital devices and those under age 1 spend no time at all on a daily basis.

"The goal is not to take away screens but to help parents manage time on screens and frequency of breaks."

WHO released its recommendations, "WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep for Children under 5 Years of Age," on April 24. Among its other recommendations: children should spend more time engaged in physical activity and getting enough sleep. The WHO study refers to sedentary screen time, which includes watching television or videos, or playing computer games.

Here are WHO's screen time recommendations by age:

  • Infant (less than 1 year of age): Screen time is not recommended.

  • 1-2 years of age: No screen time for a 1-year-old. No more than an hour for 2-year-olds, with less time preferred.

  • 3 to 4 years old: No more than one hour.

Sedentary behavior by youngsters has been identified as a risk factor in global mortality and has contributed to the rise in obesity, the guidelines say.

"Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people's lives," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said upon the guidelines' release. "Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains."

Said Fiona Bull, WHO programme manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases: "Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life."

Link between vision and inactivity

Developing the ability to "use" vision starts at birth, says Glen Steele, O.D., professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee. When a baby watches a parent form words or point to objects, their actions lead to development of a baby's "looking" process, which fosters their internal curiosity, he says. That curiosity leads to the baby wanting to get to an object out of reach and a desire to move toward it.

"When an infant sees a parent looking at an object and follows their gaze to that object by 12 months of age, they will be able to identify 335 words by 18 months of age," Dr. Steele says. "When they do not follow the parent's gaze, they will only be able to identify 197 words by 18 months of age. Huge difference. This work was done by Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D., at the University of Washington. Vision triggers curiosity, which triggers movement and exploration."

Hands-on exploration is one of the ways children learn.

Consequences of too much screen time, being sedentary

Studies also have shown that being sedentary can have significant developmental consequences, Dr. Steele says. Among them:

  • Children are less likely to have the fine motor skills necessary for writing when entering kindergarten.

  • Vocabulary, communication skills and eye contact are reduced.

  • Developmental delays are documented with increased device use. Screen time, for instance, has been linked to ADHD symptoms (self-regulation).

  • Attention, decision-making and cognitive control are reduced.

  • Creativity also suffers. Screen time interferes with problem solving.

  • Psychiatric disorders reported.

  • A premature thinning of the cortex based on brain scans.

Canadian researchers found in a study published online Jan. 28 in JAMA Pediatrics that 2- and 3-year-old children watched television for respectively 2.4 and 3.6 hours a day. Further, the authors linked excessive TV watching to "poorer performance on developmental screening tests," which may partially explain why children are not developmentally ready for starting school.

Although excessive screen time is not solely an "eye problem," its effects are readily apparent during a comprehensive eye examination through observation of pupil size and assessment of accommodative function, Dr. Steele says. When noted, optometrists should be prepared to have discussions with parents, he adds. He used the term "technoference," which refers to how technology can interfere in relationships (parent and child).

According to the AOA's 2018 American Eye-Q® survey, three-quarters of parents are concerned their children may damage their eyes due to prolonged use of electronic devices. In the survey, 4 in 5 parents reported their child spends at least an hour a day using a computer or mobile device.

Conversations with parents

Dr. Steele has developed a brief guide doctors of optometry can provide parents at the conclusion of the examination.

"It includes the WHO information and also a recommendation for taking breaks," says Dr. Steele, who will be presenting more detailed information on screen time at the AAO annual conference in October. "The 20-20-20 rule (take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away) was developed in the 1990s and, at the time, it was sufficient because we were using CRT (cathode ray tube) screens that were larger and farther away. Now, the kids are using phones very close to their faces, which is a completely different mode of operation.

"The goal is not to take away screens but to help parents manage time on screens and frequency of breaks," he says. "More frequent breaks are step No. 1 in aiding in this process."

Blue Light Filters For Your Devices

Ever worry about how your computer habits can affect your life? You should, because blue light has been shown to disrupt your sleep cycles, delaying the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep. Please check out Ontario Association of Optometrist's video Sleepless | Are Screens Keeping You Awake? to learn more. There are a few ways to reduce the amount of blue light exposure from using your devices. You can purchase glasses with an anti-reflective coating that filters the blue light, reducing the amount that reaches your eyes.

In addition to those blue light AR-coating glasses, you can do a few tricks on your PC/Mac, Android, or iOS devices that reduce the emission of blue light. Generally, these will remove blue light from showing on your screen, which leads to softer and yellower light that is easier on your eyes. Below are step-by-step instructions on how to set up a blue light filter for your device:


The best, and easiest solution is a program that you can install called f.lux . This program is great because it is so easy to set up. Based on your location that you enter, f.lux will automatically pick up on when the sun sets and rises to turn on or off the blue light filter.

  1. Download f.lux for PC or for MacOS
  2. Install and follow the prompts needed to complete set up

It's seriously that simple. There are settings where you can adjust the colour of the filters but I don't recommend playing around with it. Also, you can disable the filter for one hour when you need to do colour-sensitive work, such as graphics design, or watching videos. You can access all of this in in the System Tray on Windows:


Mac OS X 10.12.4

I recently learned that Mac OS X 10.12.4 has a native Night Shift filter as well. Make sure your Mac has Sierra OS X 10.12.4 and is one of the following :

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 or newer)
  • iMac (Late 2012 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013 or newer)
  • Apple LED Cinema Display
  • Apple Thunderbolt Display
  • LG UltraFine 5K Display
  • LG UltraFine 4K Display
  1. Go to Apple Menu > System Preferences > Displays.
  2. Click on the Night Shift tab 


You can adjust the schedule and colour on this screen. You can also control Night Shift from the notification centre as well:


IPhone/IPad (IOS 9.3)

Please make sure your iPhone/iPad is on iOS 9.3 to use their native feature.


  1. On the home screen, swipe up from the bottom to open the control centre
  2. Tap on the Night Shift Icon on the shortcuts row

This will automatically set your device to turn on Night Shift when the sun sets to when the sun rises.

If you want to customize your Night Shift features, go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift. On the same screen, you can schedule a time for Night Shift to turn on automatically and adjust color temperature.


Perhaps this is the trickiest one to do if you aren't tech-savvy, but it is possible and I will walk you through it! You will have several options depending on what version of Android you are running, and whether or not you are rooted. I will give my best recommendation depending on which version you are running.

Android Running 6.0 And Under (No Root):

  1. The easiest way to install a blue light filter would be to use an app called an Twilight, which you can download from the Play Store here
  2. After installing, you can open the app to pause/resume filtering, adjust the colour/intensity/brightness of the filter, and adjust the filtering times to work with your sunrise/sunset location
  3. You can also drag down the notification centre to quickly pause/resume Twilight, and access the settings from there


Android Running 7.0+ (No Root Required):

This is my favourite and current way of filtering blue light because its a feature that is native to the Android operating system. Please make sure you are running Android Nougat (7.0+) to have this work. 

1. Enable the "System UI Tuner" by dragging down the notification tray (swipe down twice fully) and press and hold the little gear icon in the top right corner for settings for 10 seconds until it says "Congrats! System UI Tuner has been added to settings".


2. Head to the Play Store and install Night Mode Enabler from here

3. Run the application and click "Enable Night Mode". It should take you to another screen and then in the System UI Tuner set the slider to "On"


4. From here, you can adjust the time & location settings, tints, and brightness of the filter

Android With Root:

I don't have much to say about this section because only a small portion of the population has a rooted Android phone. As a root user myself, I do have a few recommendations for my tech-savvy readers! My favourite root app for blue light filter is C.F Lumen . This app actually works without root as well, but it does not work as well as when it is in root mode. There's a lot of customization that you play around with in this setting and I don't normally recommend it to the average user unless they wish to explore it. Also, f.lux made an Android app if you wish to try that out as well, but it only works in rooted Android devices.


I hope you found my post helpful in giving you less eyestrain from using devices throughout the day. I am positive that anyone who owns a device with a screen can benefit from having a blue light filter installed

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