Teach all kids to swim

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reached a startling conclusion following a study of drownings in America from 1999 to 2010 among people 29 and younger: Black children ages 11 to 12 drown in swimming pools at a rate 10 times higher than that of white children.

Doctors and researchers have known for years that black children were more likely to drown than white children, even adjusting for the lower rate of pools historically available to blacks, and they have suspected the disparity had something to do with the fact that fewer black children grow up around pools than white children. This study, though, offered the empirical evidence of the problem.

About 4,000 people in the United States die from drowning each year and drowning is responsible for more deaths among children aged 1 to 4 than any other cause except congenital anomalies, according to the CDC.

Despite the fact that swimming pools are popular recreation outlets for children of all races, it appears that there’s a disparity when it comes to children learning the life-saving skill of basic swimming.

Possibly because so many of their parents never learned to swim — and therefore may have never considered the skill important in their own lives — black children are more likely to grow up without learning to swim.

In fact, 62 percent of blacks ages 18 and older report limited swimming ability. The rate for youngsters is probably even higher, the CDC stated in its study.

But even children who don’t live near or regularly visit places where there are pools should learn to swim. Doing so gives them the ability to rescue themselves in the most basic water emergencies, the kinds of situations that often end in tragedy for people who are unable to swim.

As a CDC representative said last week, making sure your kids learn how to swim should be on a par with teaching them to cross the street safely.

Especially in Western Tidewater, where children can encounter water at nearly every turn, growing up without learning at least the basics of floating, moving in the water for short distances and controlling the panic response should be part of every child’s education, whether they are white or black.