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A Silent Epidemic?

January 11, 2011
by Dan Voigt

In our little corner of the world, we are blessed with many recreational opportunities, including fishing, boating and swimming, because of our proximity to lakes and rivers. With the Iowa Great Lakes in such close proximity, water sports are a natural for our area. However, in some areas of the country, such recreational activities aren't as convenient.

Therein lies a problem that is growing, according to some officials across the country.

The problem, simply stated, is this: Why Are So Many Americans Unable to Swim?

You want to make it more specific? OK, try this - Why are as many as half of all Americans unable to swim?

That's somewhat of a sobering statement, isn't it?

According to the National Centers for Disease Control, statistics show 10 people drown each day in this country.

The grounds for those statistics were first publicized in a survey, commissioned back in 2008, by the USA Swimming Foundation, which was followed up in 2010. That follow up revealed several startling facts:

* "In ethnically-diverse communities, the youth drowning rate is 2-3 times higher than the national average.

* "Nearly six out of 10 African American and Hispanic/Latino children are unable to swim, nearly twice as many as their Caucasian counterparts.

* "The key indicator in this was not race, but family - Children from non-swimming households are eight times more likely to be at-risk of drowning.

* "While about 1/3 of white children from non-swimming families go on to learn to swim, less than 1/10 of children in non-swimming African American families do.

* "Two key barriers preventing children from learning to swim are fear of injury or drowning, and lack of parental encouragement."

Consider these additional CDC statistics:

* "In 2007, there were 3,443 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging ten deaths per day.

* "More than one in five fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another four received emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

* "Nonfatal drowning can cause brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities including memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state)."

So, who is at the highest risk? The CDC identifies these risk groups:

* "Males: In 2007, males were 3.7 times more likely than females to die from unintentional drowning in the United States.

* "Children: In 2007, of all children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, almost 30% died from drowning. Although drowning rates have slowly declined, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years.

* "Minorities: "Between 2000 and 2007, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans across all ages was 1.2 times that of whites. For American Indians and Alaskan Natives, this rate was 1.7 times that of whites.

- "Rates of fatal drowning are notably higher among these populations in certain age groups. The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is 3.1 times that of white children in the same age range. For American Indian and Alaskan Native children, the fatal drowning rate is 2.2 times higher than for white children.

- "Factors such as the physical environment (e.g., access to swimming pools) and a combination of social and cultural issues (e.g., valuing swimming skills and choosing recreational water-related activities) may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates. If minorities participate less in water-related activities than whites, their drowning rates (per exposure) may be higher than currently reported."

Pretty sobering information.

Locally, we are blessed with excellent facilities in our communities and area and highly dedicated and qualified staff who can instruct any one of any age on the basics of swimming. In our area, there should be no barrier to anyone learning to swim.

If you don't know how to swim, contact your nearest swimming pool or aquatic center and inquire about lessons.

 
 

 

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