It's one of the simplest and purest joys of summertime for children: the kiddie pool. But a new study finds that danger can lurk in those gentle waters when caregivers let down their guards.
During the warmer months, on average, one child drowns every five days in a portable above-ground pool -- including those small inflatable pools filled only with a few inches of water, as well as larger portable pools that can hold as much as four feet of water, according to the study published today in the journal Pediatrics.
"Because portable pools are generally small, inexpensive and easy to use, parents often do not think about the potential dangers these pools present," said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, senior author of the study.
The study looked at the circumstances around 209 drowning deaths in portable pools by children under 12, from 2001 through 2009, as compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The majority of the deaths were children under five. And many of those can be attributed to brief lapses in supervision, while others resulted when children found ways around barriers meant to keep them safe.
Keeping children safe around pools of any size means preventing access to the water by unsupervised children, as well as constant supervision when children are in and around the water, the study says.
It takes only a couple of minutes and as little as two inches of water for a child to drown, experts say.
And for young children, Smith said, an adult presence is not enough to keep children safe. "For the really young kids, toddlers and infants, touch supervision is necessary," in which an adult is just two feet away from any child in the pool, whether in the pool or on the edge, he said.
"We know that the best parent in the world can't supervise their child 100 percent of the time," Smith said. "We need to come up with additional ways to prevent injuries to children."
Andrea Gielen, who studies injuries as the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, said, "Parents don't know that injuries are the leading cause of death for kids in the United States," a large percentage of which are preventable.
The key to prevention of drowning deaths in portable pools is, in large part, the authors of the study said, awareness. With summer officially under way, it's a good time for parents to tune in to other warm weather dangers to keep their children safe this summer.
SUN: Cover your children in broad spectrum sunblock before going outdoors, applying it before putting clothing on. And remember to re-apply every two hours, and after going in water or sweating. The FDA will begin regulating sunblock next year. In the meantime, consumers should choose sunblock containing zinc oxide or avobenzone, according to Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician based in Austin, Texas, and co-author of "Baby 411" and "Toddler 411" guides.
Heat stroke is another danger on hot and humid days, particularly in the beginning of summer, before the body has had a chance to adapt to the warmer climes.
"We lose most of our body heat from evaporation," Smith said. "If you are out doing strenuous activity, you need to take frequent breaks and drink a lot of water. Heat-related illness is very serious and can come on quickly."