In the wake of new research, experts are calling for greater efforts to reduce drownings among the most vulnerable. Young children and minorities still face the greatest risk, according to a pair of new studies, and experts say more education on the importance of parental supervision and swim lessons is needed.  

  

“We hope the new reports spark a national conversation that will raise public awareness and promote safer behaviors among parents and pool and spa owners,” said Kim Burgess, executive director of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The nonprofit NDPA has partnered with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for a second year to promote the federal agency’s Pool Safely campaign. As part of the campaign, the agency recently released its annual submersion and drain entrapment report. The report presents pool or spa submersion injury estimates for 2009-2011, and fatalities among children age 15 and younger between 2007 and 2009. Data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and other sources indicates that overall, for children younger than 15, 390 pool- and spa-related deaths were reported from 2007 to 2009. The estimated annual average for pool- or spa-related injuries in 2009-2011 was 5,200. CPSC statistics also indicate that more injuries and fatalities occurred among males; and in 2011, no deaths and just seven suction entrapment injuries were reported.

“Just as we engineer for safety when it comes to suction entrapments, by now making unblockable drain covers, we need to better engineer for drowning prevention. Because supervision is spotty at best,” said Tom Griffiths, president and founder of Aquatic Safety Research Group, LLC.

Another report, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that from 2005-2009, death rates were highest among children ages 4 and younger, and most drownings occurred in pools. (View the study here.)

“Young children are curious, mobile and fast; they are top heavy and don’t understand consequences or dangers,” Dr. Julie Gilchrist noted. “They often lack the skills or strength to get themselves out of dangerous situations.”

Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist at CDC, co-authored the report, published in May.

The CDC research team reviewed death certificate information from the National Vital Statistics System, and injury data from the NEISS – All Injury Program for 2005–2009. Other key findings indicate that on average, 3,880 people died from drowning each year, and approximately 5,790 persons received emergency room treatment for nonfatal drownings. Additionally, the drowning death rate among males (2.07 per 100,000 population) was approximately four times greater than among females (0.54). Among those older than age 15, alcohol was a factor in nearly one-quarter (21.8 percent) of nonfatal drowning injuries.

The CDC report also points out ongoing racial/ethnic disparity in drowning death rates. Differences were “greatest among children aged 5–14 years, where black children’s rates were almost three times that of whites and Hispanics,” Gilchrist said.

These statistics have received coverage in national media, including The Washington Post. Experts say now the focus should be on education, including the need for better parental supervision and more emphasis on swim lessons. 

“The statistics strengthen the call for action on a number of fronts,” said Shawn Anderson, co-founder of Diversity In Aquatics, and a USA Swimming diversity consultant. “They make it that much more evident that there are multiple things we must do. … It’s time for the aquatics community to stand up and focus more of our efforts and energy on changing the statistics on a larger scale.”