The issues of preventing drowning and reducing deaths associated with pools go hand in hand. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Annual Drowning Report, the number of fatal drownings in children and nonfatal drowning injuries in children under 15 years old remains high, and nonfatal drownings increased by 17% in 2021.
In-ground pools account for the highest percentage of child drowning deaths in a residential home. – Pool safe
The facts about drowning-related deaths
The World Health Organization says drowning is the leading cause of unintentional deaths worldwide, with over 372,000 deaths reported each year. 140,000 of those deaths were children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 4,000 people die from drowning in the United States each year. Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children after birth defects. Every day, an average of three children die from drowning, and it is the second leading cause of accidental death in children aged 1 to 14, just behind motor vehicle-related deaths.
Deaths from drowning in swimming pools were highest in the 1- to 14-year-old age group among children. Source: CDC
Pool related drowning facts
Each year, an average of 379 children under the age of 15 die from pool- or spa-related drowningaccording to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the statistic has been rising in the United States.
In 2018–2019 there were a total of 73 deaths from accidental drowning among those under the age of 1 year, 821 among those aged 1–4 years, 390 among those aged 5–13, and 270 among those aged 14– 17 years (CDC). Most drownings in private swimming pools occur in children aged 1-4 years. 74% of fatal pool accidents occurred in residential areas.
Texas leads the nation in child drowning cases. 67% of drowning deaths in swimming pools were in children under the age of 3. In swimming pools, black children ages 10 to 14 drown at a rate 7.6 times higher than white children. According to the CDC, black children are more likely to drown in public pools and white children are more likely to drown in private pools.
When it comes to water security, the USA falls behind the industrialized nations
In 2015, a study conducted by the National Safety Council showed that most states are significantly behind on their rating scale.
Drowning Prevention: A 2015 National Safety Council study says most states are significantly behind on their rating scale.
The NSC study made specific recommendations as to what states should do. They gave recommendations to make the grade:
- States are updating regulations for public swimming pools and water features to align with the Model Aquatic Health Code.
- High school students must know CPR to graduate.
- The regulations require that barriers be installed around all private swimming pools.
States urged to take higher water security measures
In 2015, the media urged states to reduce the number of drowning deaths. To date, most of the country has yet to adopt the recommended guidelines set out by the NSC. Experts like Dr. Katchmarchi, Executive Director of the NDPA (National Drowning Prevention Alliance), believe we have reached a critical point. “From 2020 we saw a very significant increase. The scary thing is just looking at the numbers it’s hard to tell if that’s a new trend that we’re seeing due to the pandemic.”
Katchmarchi is sounding the alarm because an increase in the number of drownings could have a direct demonstrable connection to current events. “In 2020, for the first time in a very long time, we have seen a significant increase in drowning rates,” Katchmarchi said. “Some of the first dates we’re getting for 2021 scare me even more.”
Public health experts say water safety should be a priority because nearly all drowning deaths are preventable. “These deaths don’t have to happen. It’s really something to be ashamed of and to address vigorously,” said Shannon Frattaroli, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.
“Most state and local health departments are chronically underfunded for accident prevention in general, and many lack expertise in drowning prevention,” said Richard Hamburg, executive director of the Safe States Alliance.
Regarding drowning prevention, legislation is slowly being passed to establish better standards. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA) is state law in the United States. This was a major success for federal intervention.
Organizations are appealing to Congress to take action
It is a fact that drowning remains one of the leading causes of death in children and young adults. In most cases, states lack the laws and regulations that experts in the field of drowning prevention believe are necessary. Experts say more effort is needed from states to effectively reduce the death toll. Existing laws on the books tend to be inconsistent even within neighboring jurisdictions.
More than two hundred national and local groups and state agencies, including the American Red Cross, the YMCA and the California Highway Patrol, wrote to Congress in March. They called the increase in drownings a “silent crisis” that needs government leadership and funding.
Additional research on measures to prevent drowning is needed to have any serious effect, says Dr. Katchmarchi: “There is not much that is evidence-based. We said to use barriers and alarms. We have some data to support our knowledge that barriers are effective in reducing drowning. Some studies suggest there may be a decrease of up to 50% in young children, but we need better data. When it comes to alerts, we have next to no data to prove how effective alerts are. We think they are, but as far as we can say that adding an alarm will reduce the risk of drowning by X%, we just don’t have that data.”
Katchmarchi says more focus needs to be placed on developing the National Water Security Action Plan. “This is intended to have an impact at the community, county, state and federal level when it comes to water security. This was in response to a call from the World Health Organization that nations should have a national plan to combat drowning,” Katchmarchi said.
Drowning prevention and water safety
Drowning prevention studies are essential to our water safety goals in this country. A number of unquantified factors may have contributed to an increase in drowning deaths in recent years. Drowning prevention is clearly a moving target where the numbers reflect American life, not just statistics.
The closure of public pools and the abolition of J1 visas for lifeguards may have contributed to drowning deaths in 2020 and 2021.
A moving target that equals human life
Perhaps what’s most troubling about all of this data is that change doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough. It is worrying that public swimming pools continue to close at an alarming rate given the recent spike in drowning deaths. It is alarming that a lack of funding for research, lifeguards and public pools could undo the gains our nation has made over the past few decades. As we struggle to keep up with other developed nations, water security experts say it should be a national embarrassment.
“I was part of the US delegation in 2017 that attended the World Conference on Drowning Prevention. What was quite embarrassing was that the United States was the only developed nation that didn’t have a water security action plan,” said Dr. Katchmarchi, “ At that point we hadn’t even started development. If you look at other developed nations, we’re compared to Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Canada, but the biggest difference is that their federal governments play a much more active role in water security.”
Listen to our entire conversation with Dr. Katchmarchi | to Managing Director – NDPA