A new study substantiates what aquatics professionals
have long believed, and it may change the stance of a key
pediatrics group. Researchers say swim lessons for young
children do not increase their risk of drowning; they
apparently help prevent it.
“We found that fewer of the children who had
drowned had participated in formal lessons,” said
Dr. Ruth Brenner, lead author of the study from the Eunice
Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development, based in Bethesda, Md. “Exactly
why swim lessons appear to offer a protective effect is
unclear, but certainly they did not seem to do any
The study examined children ages 1 to 19. It’s
one of the first in the nation to look at connections
between swim lessons and drowning. Researchers evaluated
coroner reports and interviewed surviving relatives of
young drowning victims. They compared those cases with a
control group of youngsters from the same communities.
“This is the scientifically derived data that
we’ve been waiting for,” said Johnny
Johnson, owner of Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin,
Published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent
Medicine (March 2009), the findings indicate that
formal swim training could reduce drowning risk in children
ages 1 to 4 by more than 85 percent. Lessons appear to have
a similar protective effect in older children, but results
weren’t statistically significant.
As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics is
considering revising its position on swim lessons for very
young children. A draft of a new policy, written by Dr.
Jeff Weiss, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s
Hospital in Arizona, currently is under review.
“Basically, because of concern over parents
dropping their guard when it comes to supervision, the AAP
currently does not recommend swimming lessons before age
4,” said Dr. Weiss, a former member of the
AAP’s Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison
Prevention. “But Dr. Brenner has a significant
background in this area. [She authored one of the earlier
swim lesson policy statements], so the literature is being
Regardless of policy, experts agree, swim lessons are
just one part of multilevel prevention.
“Being a skilled swimmer doesn’t make
a child ‘drown proof,’” said
Brenner, adding that among the 5- to 19-year-olds in the
study, 48 percent of those who drown (11 of 23) were
reported as able to swim 50 feet.