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CDC: Black children more likely to drown in pools

According to the American Red Cross, 64% of African-American, 45% of Hispanic/Latino, and 40% of white children have few to no swimming skills.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For the Memorial Day weekend, people usually go to the pool, lake or participate in other water activities. But before you and your family do any of those things, you might want to consider putting safety first. 

According to the American Red Cross, drowning Is a leading cause of death for children in the United States. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

The Red Cross, along with other organizations, is reminding everyone about the importance of water safety and drowning prevention. Specifically encouraging adults and children to learn how to swim strongly as a life saving skill.

Even though anyone can drown, some groups are more at risk than others. Drowning risks also vary by race and household income. 

According to the Red Cross, 64% of African-American, 45% of Hispanic/Latino and 40% of white children have few to no swimming skills. 

When parents have no or low swimming skills, their children are unlikely to have proficient swimming skills. This affects:

  • 78% of African-American children
  • 62% of Hispanic/Latino children
  • 67% of white children
  • African-American children ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of white children in the same age range.
  • 79% of children in households with incomes less than $50,000 have few-to-no swimming skills.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black children ages 10 to 14 drown in swimming pools at rates 7.6 times higher than white children. Black children are more likely to drown in public pools, while white children are more likely to drown in residential pools.

In natural water, Native American people have the highest drowning death rates with rates 2.7 times higher than white people.

There are some factors that make drowning more likely, for adults and children too. The CDC says not being able to swim is one of them. 

Many adults and children report they can’t swim or they are weak swimmers. Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children and adults. 


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The CDC has a list of other factors that make drowning more likely. That includes:

  • Missing or ineffective fences around water: Proper pool fencing can prevent young children from getting to the pool area without caregivers’ awareness. A four-sided isolation fence, which separates the pool area from the house and yard, reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing (which encloses the entire yard, but does not separate the pool from the house).
  • Lack of close supervision: Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water, especially to unsupervised children. It can happen in lakes and oceans, pools, bathtubs and even buckets of water.
  • Location: The highest risk locations for drowning vary by age. Among infants under 1-year-old, two thirds of all drownings occur in bathtubs. Most drownings happen in home swimming pools among children ages 1 to 4. About 40% of drownings among children 5 to 14 occur in natural water and about 30% occur in swimming pools. More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among people 15-years-old and older occur in natural waters like lakes, rivers or oceans.
  • Not wearing life jackets: Life jackets can prevent drowning during water activities, especially boating and swimming. The U.S. Coast Guard reported 658 boating-related deaths in 2021. The report found 81% died by drowning, and 83% of these people were not wearing life jackets.
  • Drinking Alcohol: Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation, like boating or swimming, nearly 1 in 4 emergency department visits for drowning, and about 1 in 5 reported boating deaths. Alcohol impairs balance, coordination, judgment and it increases risk-taking behavior.
  • Using drugs and prescription medications: Certain medications can increase the risk of drowning, especially psychotropic medications commonly prescribed for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other health conditions. Side effects from these medications can be similar to the effects of alcohol, such as a difficulty thinking clearly and decreased motor skills. Other drugs and prescription medications might also increase drowning risk.

The City of Sacramento offers swimming lessons for adults and children — including at the following locations:

The City of Sacramento wants to make sure the most vulnerable populations have access to swim lessons and other drowning prevention resources, too. That's where the city created the Aquatics Swim Safe program

People who qualify for the program, based on financial needs, get free swim lessons, swim team and junior lifeguard camps.

Applications, along with copies of required documentation, must be submitted by email to the Aquatics Office before the program start date. Applicants will be notified if space is available and the participant is registered.

The Red Cross offers swim classes for adults and children in Sacramento, too. Children swim classes include six levels of instruction, including an Introduction to Water Skills and Stroke Development and Improvement courses. 

Swimming lessons for adults are available in three levels, including learning the basics, improving skills and swimming strokes, and swimming for fitness. To find a swimming class, visit your local pool and ask for Red Cross swim lessons.

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