Drowning: Still a Leading Cause of Kids’ Accidental Death

It’s Memorial Day Weekend once again, the start of another summer of picnics and parades and family reunions.  We’ve got car racing  and silly eating contests and fireworks coming up soon and while most of us have to work through the season as usual, there is a bit less structure to our days, a sense of ‘school’s out freedom’ that we all relish.

A note of caution, though.  According to the CDC, drowning still kills more American children between the ages of 1 to 4 than any other cause except birth defects.  Boys are four times more likely to be drowning victims than girls; half of these drownings take place in swimming pools.  Many children who are found quickly, pulled from the water and somehow survive suffer irreversible brain damage, according to Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention.  And it happens fast, very fast.

There are plenty of precautions that really help.  Blocking access to swimming pools is crucial, as are constant vigilance and starting swimming lessons as soon as possible.  Research shows that swimming lessons for kids ages 1 to 4 can be real lifesavers.  As Dr. Gilchrist observes, “It would be really nice for children to have the skills so they can manage themselves in the rare event that they end up in the water and survive long enough so parents can find them and get them out”.

As we stop to say thank you to those who have sacrificed and served us in the past this weekend, let’s promise ourselves we will do our best to protect all children from drowning.  In too many cases involving home pools, the parents are completely unaware that a child has slipped out of the house and found his or her way to the water.  Your own children may have grown up and left home years ago, but your pool may be irresistible to the little ones three doors down.  Close those gates, check those barriers, repair those fences.  At public pools or at gatherings with friends, pay extra attention if any children are present, whether they’re your kids or not.

Here are some other safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • All caregivers should learn CPR.
  • Never leave toys in or around a pool.
  • Never leave a child alone in or near a pool, even for a moment.
  • Make sure an alert adult is always within arm’s length as children swim or play in or near water.
  • Children ages 1 to 4 should take swimming lessons.  Remember, though, that taking lessons and teaching children to swim in no way guarantees their safety.  Good swimmers drown every day.  Direct supervision remains crucial.
  • Teach children to never run, push or jump on others around water.
  • Teach children never to swim alone.
  • Keep a charged phone by the pool, along with rescue equipment such as a life-preserver and a shepherd’s hook (a long pole with a hook at the end).
  • Pools should be surrounded by fencing at least 4-feet high. Gates should self-close and self-latch at a height unreachable by small children.
  • Any plastic or inflatable pools must be emptied after each use and turned upside down.
Special thanks US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. 

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