Facts About Water Safety
and Drowning Prevention
The following data, along with other research on drowning prevention and water safety can be found on the websites of: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
How big is the problem?
• Drowning is one of the top 5 causes of death for people aged 1-14 years for 48 of 85 countries with data meeting inclusion criteria. For example, in Australia drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged 1-3 years. In Bangladesh, drowning accounts for 43 percent of all deaths in children aged 1-4 years. And in China, drowning is the leading cause of injury death in children aged 1-14 years.
• According to a research study conducted by the American Red Cross in 2020, 56% of kids ages 4-17 cannot perform the basic water safety skills they need to save their own life.
• According to the CDC, every year (from 2010-2019) in the United States there are an estimated 3,960 fatal unintentional drownings, including boating-related drowning-that is an average of 11 drowning deaths per day.
• In 2019, an estimated 236,000 people died from drowning, making drowning a major public health problem worldwide. Injuries account for over 8 percent of total global mortality. Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury-related death, accounting for 7 percent of all injury-related deaths.
• About one in five people who die from drowning within the United States are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another eight receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
• According to the CDC, drowning is also a significant source of morbidity for children. In 2017, an estimated 8,700 children younger than 20 years of age visited a hospital emergency department for a drowning event, and 25 percent of those children were hospitalized or transferred for further care.
Who is most at risk in the United States?
Males: Nearly 80 percent of people who die from drowning in the United States are male.
Children: Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. Among children ages 1 to 4, most drownings occur in home swimming pools. Almost 70% of childhood drownings happen during non-swim times. 88% of child drownings happen with at least one adult present.
Some racial and ethnic groups: Drowning death rates for American Indian or Alaska Native people ages 29 and younger are 2 times higher than rates for White people. Drowning death rates for Black people are 1.5 times higher than rates for White people. Disparities are highest among Black children ages 5-9 (rates 2.6 times higher) and ages 10-14 (rates 3.6 times higher).
Factors such as access to swimming pools, the desire or lack of desire to learn how to swim and choosing water-related recreational activities may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates. Available rates are based on population, not on participation. If rates could be determined by actual participation in water-related activities, the disparity in drowning rates between some racial and ethnic groups would be much greater.
What has research found?
• Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children ages 1-4 years.
Brenner RA, Taneja GS, Haynie DL, Trumble AC, Qian C, Klinger RM, Klevanoff MA. Association between swimming lessons and drowning in childhood: A case-control study. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2009;163(3):203-10.
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