Physical Activity Recommendations for Early Childhood: An International Analysis of Ten Different Countries’ Current National Physical Activity Policies and Practices for those under the Age of 5

Kristy Howells (Editor), Arja Sääkslahti (Editor), International Association for Physical Education in Higher Education Special Interest Group for Early Years (AIESEP SIG for Early Years)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


During the last two decades there have been growing interests on recommendations for children’s physical activity. The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the first global international recommendations for children in 2010, focusing on children and youth aged 5-17-year olds. The recommendations were based on the dose-response relationship between the frequency, duration, intensity, type and amount of physical activity needed for prevention of non-communicable diseases. Until 2019, there was a gap in the recommendations, as the WHO did not offer global recommendations for those children under the age of 5 (early years). The new recent guidelines (WHO, 2019) now offer a focused recommendations for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for under 5 years of age, however what the guidelines do not offer are ways in which early years’ practitioners and teachers can support physical activity through play to ensure children are inspired, motivated and competent to have a physically active daily life as well enjoy moving.

An international policy and practice analysis, (not previously undertaken), of ten sample countries, was completed of current national physical activity practices. Also, an international comparison of early years’ education settings was examined, specifically for those under the age of 5, to investigate current curricula, as well as the qualifications, knowledge and understanding of those supporting children’s learning in different cultural contexts. The sample of ten countries (Belgium, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, United Kingdom and United States of America) questioned whether the global daily physical activity recommendations (WHO, 2010), currently applied at time of analysis, are costumed and used for to the early years’ age group on a national level or if they need to be adjusted, especially in light of the new guidelines.
The analysis revealed that eight countries have developed their own national recommendations for children below the age of 5, while only two countries do not have any early years’ specific physical activity recommendations. National authorities seem to be the most common executive sources behind the recommendations. The content of physical activity for children under the age of 5, mostly included the total amount and intensity of physical activity. The total daily amount of physical activity in these ten countries varies between 60 minutes moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity up to 180 min total light to moderate intensity physical activity and for some countries the daily recommendations are only from age 1 year, not between birth and 1 year, this age range remains unsupported.

The conclusions from the analysis of national recommendations, underlined the need to extend further the new global recommendations so that they are developed to support all countries to go beyond just physical activity intensity levels and to consider how young children’s development can be supported in a versatile way by physically active play. Also age specific recommendations are offered for appropriate and purposeful physical activity to support early years and school aged children’s overall development. The findings also suggest educational recommendations for staff members of early childhood education and care settings to know appropriate and age specific recommendations to ensure they are able to support young children to reach the national and global recommendations. Research recommendations are also proposed.

Key words: Physical activity, Recommendations, Early years’ children, National differences
Translated title of the contributionAnbefalinger for fysisk aktivitet blandt de yngste børn og unge: En analyse af ti landes eksisterende nationale fysisk aktivitet anbefalinger for børn under 5 år
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhysical Education in Early Childhood Education and Care : Researches – Best Practices – Situation
EditorsBranislav Antala, Giyasettin Demirhan, Attilio Carraro, Cagla Oktar, Hakan Oz, Adriana Kaplánová
Place of PublicationBratislava
PublisherFederation Internationale D'Education Physique
Publication date2019
ISBN (Electronic)978-80-89075-81-2
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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