African-American Kids Don't Have to Drown

Researchers offer ways to cut disproportionate drownings among black youth.

ByABC News
June 20, 2010, 3:31 PM

June 20, 2010— -- Monday marks the official start of summer, which, for many Americans, means visits to the pool or trips to the beach.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics is urging caution when it comes to summer splashing. Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for those younger than 19 and can be prevented, the group says.

One demographic in particular, African-Americans, is threatened by the statistic. Black children drown at a rate more than three times that of white children.

While 40 percent of white children were found to have low or no swimming ability, the same was true for nearly 70 percent of African-American children, a USA Swimming survey finds. Latino children also lag in their swimming level, with 58 percent at low or no swimming ability.

African-American children with parents who themselves do not know how to swim are less likely to know or to be encouraged to learn how. And, as for why African-Americans show less of a proclivity for swimming, several reasons are apparently to blame.

African-Americans say that a lack of access to pools, the expense of swimming lessons and the idea that recreational swimming is a culturally white activity are factors that inhibit them from learning how to swim, according to the study, which was commissioned by the national governing body of competitive swimming USA Swimming and released last month.

The most common reason cited by African-Americans for not knowing how to swim, however, was a fear of drowning.

The study was conducted by the University of Memphis between Feb. 1, 2010, and May 26, 2010, and surveyed more than 2,000 children and parents at YMCAs in six cities across the United States: Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Memphis, Minneapolis and San Diego.

"We were awestruck by the focus group participants' stories, which revealed how deeply rooted the 'fear factor' is embedded," said Richard Irwin, who led the team of researchers together with his wife, Carol Irwin.

"Using solutions outlined by our focus groups and some minority swimming programs already in place, we can positively affect the ... drowning rates, and infuse the sport of swimming with much needed diversity," Carol Irwin said.