Mandating out-of-schools work limits, gaming, has health benefits in kids

Cutting access to video games and reducing out-of-hours schoolwork could help children add nearly an hour of active time to their day.

That’s according to a new UK study into the effect of China’s mandated restrictions on school activity and gaming company access to children and adolescents.

Whether governments in the rest of the world have the appetite for imposing stringent regulations remains unclear.

Globally, only around 1 in 5 children reach the World Health Organization’s recommended level of physical activity.

China’s restrictions were introduced in July 2021, and there have been several improvements in health markers.

Among the 7,000 students from China’s Guangxi province, sedentary time was reduced by an average of 46 minutes each day. Students in urban centres were found to benefit more.

Time spent in front of a screen – including TVs, computers and handheld devices – was cut by 10 minutes, and children were 20% more likely to spend less than 2 hours using electronic devices.

China’s approach to improving youth physical health – through regulation rather than education – could be a solution for other countries looking to improve childhood activity levels.

High levels of physical activity are associated with improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and cardiometabolic health.

“Our findings certainly suggest the government regulations may have helped lower sedentary behaviour among children and young people in this region of China,” says lead author Bai Li, a senior lecturer at the University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies.

“Traditionally, children and their parents or caregivers 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.”

Li says this shift in approach appears to be more effective by directly intervening on how long young people can spend engaged in sedentary activities.

But it’s unclear how feasible such regulation would be in other nations, or even within other parts of China.

Some western governments have recently weighed moderating screen time and exposure to online platforms. Florida’s governor Ron de Santis signed a bill into law in March prohibiting children under 14 from having social media accounts.

South Australia’s premier Peter Malinauskas has also weighed up similar restrictions for children in his state.  However these laws are aimed more at improving mental health outcomes, rather than physical health.

Li says “further research is needed to assess whether such interventions have a similar impact in other regions of China and internationally”.

Li’s study is published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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