Goldilocks were right No one size fits all when it comes to children’s health

Just like Goldilocks in a children’s fairy tale, one size rarely fits all. So when it comes to children’s time – school time, exercise, downtime, and sleep – there isn’t much that generic guidelines can do.

While children struggle to fit everything into their day, researchers at University of South Australia and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute worked on a solution – a Goldilocks Day calculator – a custom online tool that can help parents and guardians make the best use of their child’s time.

By focusing on key health outcomes – physical health, cognitive / academic abilities, and mental health and well-being – the new Time Tool allows you to identify and customize the optimal times for your child’s sleep, sedentary behaviors (reading, studying, downtime), light physical activity (housework, walking) and moderate to vigorous physical activity (sports and exercise).

Principal investigator, Dr Dot Dumuid says the new time tool will help parents tailor their children’s days to suit their personal needs.

“From the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed, many parents and guardians spend a lot of time shaping their children’s time,” says Dr Dumuid.

“We encourage them to do their homework, take out the trash, turn off their screens, practice their instrument, eat their lunch, play sports – the list is endless. Add games, computers, and social media to the mix, and finding a healthy balance between all of these activities can be more difficult than ever.

“Our research helps understand children’s competing demands and goals by clarifying how best to distribute hours and activities over the course of a day.

“The result is the world’s first customizable time tool – the Goldilocks Calculator of the Day – which makes it easy for parents to identify the activities that will best help their child – physically, mentally or academically.

The Goldilocks Calculator of the Day is built on Existing Australian and global health guidelines to predict optimal time use compositions using data on the mental health, academic performance and fitness of more than 1,182 children (ages 11 to 12), via the Australian Child Health Checkpoint to study.

It allows parents to rank the importance of physical health, mental health, and cognitive abilities to their child’s health to calculate the best time allocations for sleep, study, exercise, and play.

If all health factors are weighted equally, the perfect “Goldilocks Day” for kids includes

Sleep = 10.4 hours; Sedentary time = 9.7 hours; Light physical activity = 2.4 hours; Moderate to vigorous physical activity = 1.5 hours.

However, the study found that optimal daily lengths varied widely for different health outcomes.

“Just as all children are individuals, so are their health needs, which is why we have made the Goldilocks calculator customizable, based on their individual needs,” says Dr Dumuid.

“For example, if your child needs to be more active, getting up early on weekends may be more important than sleeping – so you might sacrifice sleep and sedentary time to stimulate exercise.

“Or, if your child is struggling with anxiety, then going to bed earlier is more beneficial for their health than additional sedentary time, for example on a computer.

“And, if the goal is to improve grades, it takes more sedentary time – or study time – reducing sleep and exercise simultaneously.

“It might seem logical, but integrating everything into the day is very difficult for children and parents. And with statistics showing that only 15% of Australian children meet daily activity guidelines, we still have a way to go. Internationally, this figure is sometimes as low as 6 percent.

“Hopefully this Goldilocks Calculator of the Day will help parents to better manage their children’s time and learn to customize it according to their children’s needs.

Notes to Editors:

  • * mental health was recorded using measures of life satisfaction, psychosocial issues, depression and emotional issues; cognition and academic performance were measured using nonverbal IQ, vocabulary, and academic performance; and physical health was measured through levels of body fat, fitness, blood pressure, inflammation, and bone health.
  • To access the Goldilocks calculator, visit: https://unisa.edu.au/Goldilocks-Day-Calculator . Use the scroll bar to select weights for different health areas and the calculator will automatically adjust the hours of sleep, inactivity and physical activity.


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