Must-Know Health Numbers

You can count on it! These 11 numbers will help you keep your family healthy and safe.

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    99.5 degrees F

    That's the oral temperature that docs say qualifies as a fever

    When your munchkin is burning up, it's difficult to remember that a fever is actually his body's way of posting a "No Vacancy" sign to viruses. "The body's temperature raises because most germs don't work as well at higher temps," says Gregg Alexander, D.O., a general pediatrician at Madison Pediatrics in London, Ohio. "Plus, the body's immune system functions better at a slightly elevated temperature." Once your child's temp exceeds 99.5°F (orally) or 100.3°F (rectally), it's considered a fever; keep him hydrated and give children's ibuprofen as directed. But an oral temperature of 103°F, a fever that lasts for more than 3 to 4 days, or any fever in an infant under six weeks old requires a call to the pediatrician.

  • 2 to 7

    That's the healthy range for weekly bowel movements.

    "Not every child needs a bowel movement every day—some people are amazed by that," says Latanya J. Love, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. True, Infants will typically have a bowel movement after every feeding, up to 6 to 8 per day, but as they get older quality trumps quantity. Look for a soft (but not loose) consistency. If your child is going longer than 5 to 7 days with a bowel movement, is straining, has hard stool that resembles rabbit pellets, or soiled underwear (a result of holding in stool because passing it hurts), she may be constipated. Time to call the pediatrician.

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    5

    That's the max for teaspoons of added sugar in a toddler's diet.

    Sugar won't do your child's teeth any favors, but a nastier threat lies in the sweet stuff's tendency to crowd out healthier foods like vegetables and whole grains. That, combined with the overwhelming prevalence of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, makes it a wise move to keep a lid on children's sugar intake, says Elisa Zied, RD, author of Feed Your Family Right! Shoot for 12 to 20 grams (3 to 5 teaspoons a day) for all kids as a good rule of thumb; they can have more added sugar calories (132 to 195 calories worth—this is about 33 g to 49 g or 8 to 12 tsp worth), but only if they skip butter and other sources of solid fats that day. Sound like a lot? Consider this: One Low-Fat Frosted Strawberry Pop Tart contains 21 grams of sugar—half of your kindergartner's daily allotment. Yogurt, catsup, salad dressing, maple syrup, and crackers are other sneaky sugar sinners. Scan food labels for ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, honey, or anything ending in "-ose."

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    1-800-222-1222

    That's the phone number for the Poison Control Center.

    From the bulk-size bottle of vitamins perched on your bathroom counter to the menacing gang of household cleaning products lined up beneath your kitchen sink, plenty of potential poisons are scattered around the homes of even the best-intentioned parents. Dialing 1-800-222-1222 will connect you to your local Poison Control Center. Someone there will guide you through the next steps, which may include calling 9-1-1 (Grandma left her hypertension pills out) or simply calming down (chalk is nontoxic). "If you think your child might have swallowed something but she's still running around, acting normal, call Poison Control," Dr. Love says. But if she has an altered mental status or is unresponsive, call 9-1-1 immediately.

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    7

    That's how many family dinners you should aim for per week.

    Yes, you really can eat to your (child's) health: Research has linked family dinners with reduced risk of eating disorders, drug and alcohol use, and obesity among children and teenagers. And kids aren't the only ones who'll benefit from sitting down to turkey meat loaf and sweet potatoes. The family meal offers solid adult benefits, such as higher relationship satisfaction, enhanced mental and physical health, and an emboldened sense of life achievement, according to a 2009 Barilla survey. No wonder food manufacturers are using "health" campaigns to encourage family meals. Stouffer's new Let's Fix Dinner campaign touts facts like "Teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to say they get mostly As and Bs in school." The truth is, no matter the age of your children, family dinners are smart.

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    12

    That's on average how many hours of sleep a toddler needs per night.

    Newborn catch an average of 16 hours of zzzs/day (that means some may need even more); toddlers need about 12 hours/night, plus an hour-long nap. By the time kindergarten starts, they'll likely have abandoned napping and will average 10 hours of shut-eye. "If they don't get enough sleep, you may notice temper tantrums or worsening behavior," Dr. Love says—a result of their energetic minds and bodies not being able to recharge. In fact, a Northwestern University study of 510 preschoolers found that those who slept less than 10 hours in a 24-hour period were more likely to misbehave and were at greater risk for behavioral problems.

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    71%

    That's the percentage that infant fatalities are reduced when a car seat is used.

    Seatbelts were designed for adult males; your baby needs a far more tailored safety cocoon. Jamie Schaefer-Wilson, author of The Consumer Reports Guide to Childproofing & Safety says that when correctly used—that means proper positioning in an appropriately anchored, rear-facing seat-child restraint seats reduce infant fatalities by 71 percent; for toddlers, it's 54 percent. Bring your car seat to the local police or fire department and ask for a certified child passenger safety technician to install it. Schaefer-Wilson recommends keeping your child facing the rear for as long as possible—some new car seats are designed to be rear facing until the child reaches 30 pounds.

  • 16%

    That's the percentage of American children who are obese.

    Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years. In fact, for the first time in history, children today may face a shorter life expectancy than their parents and it's due to weight issues. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using the Body Mass Index (BMI) as an obesity screening tool for kids over the age of 2. A BMI in the 95th percentile or above is considered obese, Dr. Love says; anything in the 85th to 95th percentile is overweight. Both categories mean your child is at increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and needs to shed some weight. Rather than emphasize diets, Dr. Love urges a focus on a healthy lifestyle. Keep a food diary for a week and review it with your pediatrician. Make sure your older kids are engaging in at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity, like soccer, dancing or just playing in the backyard, and plan fun activities like family walks or hikes.

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    1 Year

    That's the age at which most babies speak their first word.

    Of course there is a wide range of normal when it comes to baby talk, but between 9 and 12 months most babies will utter their first word or two ("Mama" is a biggie). By 18 months, they'll have 15 to 20 words and by age 2, most will boast a 50- to 270-word vocabulary. But remember, these are only guidelines: "Each child is unique in his or her development," says Diane Bahr, author of Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) That!—Everything from Bottles and Breathing to Healthy Speech Development. The child who has more words is not necessarily smarter than the child who has fewer words, she says. "It simply means that the child who has more words is better at that particular skill at that time." One tip to encourage speech: Read to your child daily.

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    30

    That's the minimum SPF that should be in the sunscreen you use on your child.

    Last year, the American Academy of Dermatology upped the minimum SPF—for kids and adults—from 15 to 30. Slather a shot glass-size amount of broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen over your child's skin a half hour before heading outdoors, and reapply every 2 to 3 hours to help prevent painful sunburns and skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. Keep children out of direct sunlight from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the rays are strongest (if their shadows are shorter than they are, seek shade). And remember, it's not just water and sand that reflect sun, snow does too; any reflection ups the chances of a burn.

    Be aware: Sunscreen labels will be changing soon as manufacturers are being required to list both UVA and UVB protection (UVB causes the burn, but both rays can cause skin cancer).

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    120 degrees F

    That's where you should set your water heater temperature to prevent scalding.

    According to the Home Safety Council, 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths occur annually as a result of scalding tap water in the home. Hot water can burn like fire, and it takes just seconds to inflict lasting damage. Avoid the problem by setting your home water heater to 120°F (49°C)—just below the medium setting. That way, even if your little one manages to turn on the hot water faucet all by himself, he'll avoid serious injury.

    Not sure where your water heater is located? Call your gas company. Bonus: By turning down your water heat, you'll save money on your utility bill!