Especially in summer, childhood drowning is an ever-present concern.
Between 2000 and 2005, 6,900 U.S. children died from nonboating accidental drowning. The rate of drowning was almost four times higher for children 1 to 2 years old, and twice as high for those younger than 5.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that after age 5, all children be taught to swim. At present, however, the AAP does not recommend for or against swimming lessons as a measure to prevent drowning in children younger than age 5.
A recent article in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine looked at the association between swimming lessons and the risk of drowning specifically in the 1- to 4-year-old age groups. Previous concerns had been raised about the potential for swimming lessons to increase the risk for drowning in such young children.
This study provided good news that kids ages 1 to 4 who’ve taken formal swimming lessons have 88 percent less risk of drowning. Researchers found, however, that only 3 percent of the children who’d drowned had taken swimming lessons.
So with this news, it might be prudent to start swimming lessons at a younger age than previously thought. But swimming lessons alone will not prevent drowning, and even in this study, many of the older children who drowned were noted to have been proficient swimmers.
It’s still important to have other drowning prevention strategies in place, including pool fencing, constant and age-appropriate adult supervision and training in CPR.
Children are amazing at finding ways to unlock doors and windows that lead outside, and no parent can know where their child is every minute of the day. If you have a pool and a child is missing, always check the pool first, as a child can quietly slip underwater and lose consciousness in as little as two minutes and drown in five minutes!
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a pediatrician, medical editor and media host. Submit questions at kidsdr.com.