little girl by the side of an outdoor swimming pool, dipping her toes in the water.
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Drowning Deaths Among Kids In The U.S. Are Rising For The First Time In Years

The CDC reports that 40 million Americans don’t know how to swim and stresses the importance of making swim lessons accessible to everyone.

A new report has found that drowning deaths among children in the U.S. is on the rise, for the first time in years. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released findings from a study that pointed to an increase in drowning deaths since 2020, and noted that drowning is the one of the leading causes of death for young children in the U.S.

The CDC’s report, which was released on May 14, found that drowning increased by 28% among children ages 1 to 4 in 2022 compared to 2019. The number of yearly drowning fatalities jumped to around 4,500 in 2020, 2021, and 2022, which was approximately a 10% increase. Adam Katchmarchi, CEO of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, told NPR that there were recent signs that the number of drowning fatalities were decreasing, but found it “shocking, to say the least, that we have seen these dramatic increases.”

While there was no definitive reason given for the increase in drowning deaths in children, CDC Division of Injury Prevention health scientist Tessa Clemens, who authored this report, told NPR that there were complex issues that could have lead to the fatalities. “However, we know that many public pools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the availability of swimming lessons,” Clemens said. “Once pools reopened, many facilities faced shortages of trained swimming instructors and lifeguards, which further reduced availability of swimming lessons and safe swimming areas.”

The increase in drowning deaths also disproportionately affected Black Americans, despite reports that Black Americans spend less time in the water than white or Hispanic communities. When compared with 2019, Black American drowning deaths jumped 30% in 2022. The report also found that 40 million adults do not know how to swim, with Black and Hispanic adults largely reporting that they never took a swimming lesson.

Access to swimming lessons and basic water safety information is a vitally important tool to help prevent drowning deaths, and the CDC funds programs at the Red Cross and YMCAs across the country in an effort to make these lessons more accessible to everyone.

“I think we forget drowning is still a really big problem for our young kids and that we can do something about it by making sure kids know how to swim,” Dr. Debra Houry, chief medical officer for the CDC, told CNN, adding that making swimming lessons available to everyone “because it’s so important to have that equitable access.”

As summer gets underway and kids are out of school, water safety will be even more important. While there are long waitlists to contend with, there are ways to connect with instructors. To find swim lessons near you, check out USA Swimming for local providers and organizations.