The first national study on childhood drownings suggests that rivers, lakes and ponds pose the biggest threat except for children under 5.
The study is based on figures collected from death certificates for 1,420 children under age 20 who drowned in 1995. It appears in the July issue of Pediatrics.
"These national data will greatly assist researchers in understanding where and how these deaths occur and in designing effective programs to prevent drowning," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which conducted the study.
Among children who died in accidental drownings, 5 percent were less than a year old and 37 percent were between 1 and 4 years old. Fifteen percent were age 5 to 9, 15 percent were age 10 to 14, and 29 percent were between 15 and 19 years old.
Seventy-four percent were male.
Concern Over Public Pools
Forty-seven percent of the drownings happened in freshwater such as rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds, while 32 percent happened in pools. Only 4 percent were in the ocean.
The most common drowning sites by age group were bathtubs for infants, pools for 1- to 4-year-olds and fresh water for 5- to 19-year-olds.
The study also found that after the age of 5, black males face a 12 to 15 times higher risk of drowning in swimming pools than whites. While the research doesn't explain the disparity, the authors' theories include differences in swimming abilities, in opportunities to take swimming lessons and in safety conditions in pools where blacks and whites swim.
"A number of these deaths were in pools accessible to the public, rather than in private residential pools. Public pools hadn't been a big area of concern; however, our results present a very different picture," said Dr. Ruth Brenner, the lead author and a researcher at the NlCHD.
The authors said the findings underscore the importance of recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which include constant supervision of infants and young children around water, swimming lessons for all children aged 5 and older, and use of lifejackets or other personal flotation devices when playing near rivers or lakes.