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Children's Health

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Drowning Rates Down for Kids in U.S.

Researchers Say More Young Children Are Taking Swimming Lessons; and Parents, Lifeguards Are Stepping Up Supervision
By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News

Jan. 16, 2012 -- Fewer children were hospitalized for drowning-related incidents over the past 16 years, a new study shows.

Hospitalization rates for children fell 49% across the country between 1993 and 2008, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins and the Arkansas Children's Hospital.

The number of children who died while in the hospital from drowning-related injuries also dropped by more than 40%.

This is the first time that nationwide trends in drowning-related hospitalizations in children have been reported.

For the study, researchers looked at inpatient hospitalization and discharge data for children up to age 19 over a 16-year period.

During this time, they estimate that the overall rate of children hospitalized for drowning was 4.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 in 1993, but it fell to 2.4 per 100,000 by 2008. Lower rates were seen in boys and girls and in all age ranges.

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in American children up to age 19. It accounts for nearly 1,100 deaths in young people in the U.S. each year.

Other research has shown that for every child who dies from drowning, another two children need to be hospitalized because of drowning injuries.

The study will be published in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Drowning Risks in Kids

Children in the South and West had higher rates of hospitalization from drowning incidents than kids in colder climates. But the downward trend in the nation's drowning-related hospitalizations is largely the result of fewer drowning episodes in young people from these warm-weather regions.

Public health experts credit better prevention efforts for the reduction in drowning deaths and hospitalizations in children. Tighter supervision by parents and lifeguards along with the increased use of pool fencing, life jackets, and infant tub seats have all helped to cut down on problems.

More kids taking swimming lessons earlier in life has also led to steep declines in drownings, especially in children aged 1 to 4. This age group is more likely to drown, either while bathing or from falling into the water.

Older kids are more likely to go under while swimming when they misjudge their skills or because of alcohol in teenaged boys. Drowning-related injuries are four to six times more common in boys than in girls.

"Our findings provide evidence of a true decrease in drowning-related incidents, rather than simply a shift toward more children dying before reaching a hospital," researcher Stephen Bowman, PhD, says in a news release. He is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy in Baltimore.

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