TABLE 1-2 Underlying Factors Leading to Death in 1990

Underlying Factors

Number of Deaths



Diet/inactivity patterns






Toxic agents




Sexual behavior


Motor vehicles


Drug use





SOURCE: McGinnis and Foege, 1993.

is 21.9 percent, the highest of any age group in this country. The poverty rate varies considerably by race and ethnicity, however, with close to 40 percent of black children and 32 percent of Hispanic children living in poverty, according to 1990 figures. Between 1980 and 1990, the percentage of children living in low-income families increased and the percentage living in families with comfortable or prosperous income decreased across all racial and ethnic groups (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993). The increasing number of poor and at-risk students requires schools to contend with more students who are potentially low achievers and who have health and other problems that interfere with learning. Even the youngest kindergartners arrive at school with backgrounds that will have a profound influence on their school experience; some are at a physical and mental disadvantage even before entering school, due to their mother's lack of prenatal care and to inadequate care and nurturing after birth.

A report of the Carnegie Task Force on Meeting the Needs of Young Children found that there are three major "protective factors" that help a child to achieve positive outcomes: perinatal factors such as full-term birth and normal birthweight, dependable caregivers whose childbearing practices are positive and appropriate, and community support. Scientists have learned that brain development that takes place before age 1 is more rapid and extensive than previously realized, with infants' earliest experiences with their parents providing the essential building blocks for intellectual competence and language comprehension. Therefore, the care and nurturing that take place even before a child reaches kindergarten play an important role in that child's future (Carnegie Task Force, 1994).

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