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Drowning is a Leading Cause of Death for Children

June 30, 2008

Lansing - Drowning is the number two cause of accidental death for children ages 14 and under. For children ages five and under, close to 350 drown in residential swimming pools each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Overall, approximately 810 children have died each year from 2001 to 2005 due to accidental drownings, and on average, an estimated 3,600 children go to the emergency room after near-drowning incidents a year.

"Kids drown quickly and quietly," said Janet Olszewski, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health. "A drowning child cannot cry or shout for help. If a child is missing, always check the pool first - there's no time to spare."

Even a near-drowning incident can have lifelong consequences. Kids who survive near-drowning may have brain damage; after four to six minutes under water, the damage is usually irreversible.

"The most important precaution is active supervision," said Jeff Spitzley, coordinator of Safe Kids Michigan. "Simply being near your child is not necessarily supervising."

Although 94 percent of parents say they supervise their children while swimming, many acknowledge that they engage in other distracting activities at the same time - for example, talking, eating, reading or taking care of another child. When there are children in or near the water, adults should take turns serving as the designated "Water Watcher," paying undivided attention. (Visit to download a free Water Watcher badge.)

To help keep kids safe this pool season, Safe Kids Michigan recommends these precautions:

  • If you have a pool or spa, or if your child visits a home that has a pool or spa, it should be surrounded on all four sides by a fence at least five feet high with gates that close and latch automatically. Studies estimate that this type of isolation fencing could prevent 50 percent to 90 percent of child drownings in residential pools.
  • A pool or spa should be equipped with an anti-entrapment drain cover and a safety vacuum release system to prevent children from being caught in the suction of the drain. The powerful suction forces can trap a child underwater or cause internal injuries.
  • Don't leave toys in or near the pool, where they could attract unsupervised kids. For extra protection, consider a pool alarm and alarms on the doors, windows and gates leading to the pool.
  • Enroll your kids in swimming lessons around age 4, but don't assume swimming lessons make your child "drownproof." There is no substitute for active supervision.
  • Remember: inflatable swimming toys such as "water wings" and noodles are not flotation devices and do not prevent drowning.
  • Keep rescue equipment, a phone and emergency numbers by the pool.

These guidelines apply to inflatable and portable pools, not just in-ground pools. A child can drown in just an inch of water. Kiddie pools should be emptied and stored out of reach when not in use.

For more information about drowning and water safety, visit Safe Kids Michigan works to prevent accidental childhood injury, the leading killer of children 14 and under, and is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing accidental injury. Safe Kids Michigan was founded in 1995 and is led by the Michigan Department of Community Health.