Drowning Risk Greatest for Blacks

Nearly half of U.S. deaths involve blacks, mostly young males, study finds

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By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 2, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- One of the largest studies of its kind confirms that young blacks -- especially males -- are much more likely to drown in pools than whites.

In fact, almost half of all recorded drowning deaths among people aged 5 to 24 are among blacks, according to the study in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health. Blacks are especially likely to drown in motel and hotel pools, while whites tend to drown in private pools.

Researchers don't know why black kids are at higher risk of drowning. Still, "this tells us what kinds of pools we need to target when we're creating interventions," said study author Gitanjali Saluja, a researcher with the U.S. National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

Saluja and colleagues examined a federal database of 678 drowning deaths in the United States from 1995-1998. All the victims were aged 5-24.

Seventy-five percent of the drowning victims were male, and 47 percent were black. Thirty-three percent were white, and 12 percent were Latino. About 13 percent of the U.S. population are black and about 13 percent are Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Most of the black victims -- 51 percent -- drowned in public pools. By contrast, 55 percent of white victims drowned in private pools.

Why the difference? "Part of it might be exposure and access," Saluja said. The victims "probably tend to drown more in the places that they visited more."

The study also found that regardless of race, people from poorer families were more likely to drown.

The study didn't examine whether the victims had taken swimming lessons or whether the pools were supervised by lifeguards. However, Saluja said it's possible to speculate that many of the motel and hotel pools didn't have lifeguards.

Future research will examine whether swimming instruction reduces the risk of drowning, Saluja said.

What should be done?

Chris Brewster, president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association, said there needs to be emphasis on teaching children to swim. "Swimming skills tend to be viewed solely as recreational skills. Unlike learning to play football or soccer, however, swimming is a personal safety skill. No one has died from an inability to play football, for example, but many have died from an inability to swim."

In San Diego, Brewster said, officials managed to attract minority groups to swimming lessons by aggressively promoting them, he said. Just offering them wasn't enough.

The new study also points to the importance of lifeguards, Brewster said.

"A few states require lifeguards at their pools. Most do not. Were lifeguards required by law at hotel/motel swimming pools, there would likely be fewer such amenities, but the remaining pools would be significantly safer," Brewster said. "State legislators should take note and [take] appropriate action."

More information

Learn more about children's swimming safety from kidshealth.org.

SOURCES: Gitanjali Saluja, Ph.D., research fellow, National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, Bethesda, Md.; Chris Brewster, Ph.D., president, U.S. Lifesaving Association, San Diego; April 2006 American Journal of Public Health

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