Has China’s new approach to reducing sedentary behaviour in children worked?

China recently introduced new measures to reduce daily sedentary behaviour in children, which included restrictions on screen time. But has it been successful? According to a UK study, the approach has been successful, as there has been a notable improvement in how active children are overall. 

In recent years, China has made several attempts to curb screen time, including a strict three-hour-per-week limit for children playing video games and urging tech companies to implement a “minor mode” for users under 18.

The latest initiatives target online gaming companies appealing to young users, limit the amount of homework teachers can assign, and restrict lesson schedules for private tutoring businesses. As a result, there has been a significant reduction in both overall sedentary time and the duration of various sedentary activities.

Recent research links these interventions to a 13.8 percent decrease in daily sedentary behaviour, translating to over 45 minutes each day when children were more active, particularly among urban students. A team led by the University of Bristol in the UK published these findings in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

The researchers analysed data from over 7,000 primary and secondary school students aged 9 to 18 across 14 cities in the Guangxi region of southern China. Data was collected in 2020 and 2021, before and after the regulations were introduced. The average daily screen-viewing time dropped by 10 percent, equating to about 10 minutes less on devices.

The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasises the importance of physical activity for children and adolescents aged 5-17, recommending at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity daily.

In a statement, lead author of the study Dr Bai Li noted: “The results are exciting as this type of regulatory intervention across multiple settings has never been tried before. Traditionally, children and their parents or carers have been guided with education and encouraged to make behavioural changes themselves, which hasn’t really worked. 

With these regulatory measures, the onus has shifted to online gaming companies, schools and, private tutoring companies to comply. This very different approach appears to be more effective because it is aimed at improving the environment in which children and adolescents live, supporting a healthier lifestyle.”

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