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Swim Lessons Variably Affect Children's Drowning Risk

Protective effect seen among preschoolers, but not among children and adolescents aged 5 to 19

TUESDAY, Mar. 3 (HealthDay News) -- In very young children -- but not in older children -- formal swimming lessons may significantly reduce the risk of drowning, according to study findings published in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Ruth A. Brenner, M.D., of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues conducted a case-control study based on interviews with 88 families of children aged 1 to 19 who drowned and 213 matched controls.

The researchers found that only two (3 percent) of the 61 cases aged 1 to 4 had received formal swimming lessons compared to 35 (26 percent) of controls, which equated to an 88 percent risk reduction associated with lessons. But they found no statistically significant association between formal swimming lessons and drowning risk in children aged 5 to 19 or between informal swimming instruction and drowning risk at any age.

"While it seems reasonable to assume that at least part of the protective effect is through increased swimming skills, and studies have shown that these skills can be taught at a young age, swimming skills alone are insufficient to protect a child from drowning. In our study, many of the children who drowned, particularly in the older age group, were relatively skilled swimmers," the authors write. "Parents and caregivers who choose to enroll their children in swimming lessons should be cautioned that this alone will not prevent drowning and that even the most proficient swimmers can drown."

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