Pool at Como Regional Park in St. Paul. Photo courtesy St. Paul Parks and Recreation.
As temperatures soar in much of the country, more Americans are cooling off in swimming pools, lakes, rivers and oceans. Yet, when people flock to the water, drowning deaths spike — particularly in the month of July.
Nearly 4,000 people die from drowning in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and another estimated 8,000 are treated for nonfatal drowning injuries. For children, drowning is the second leading cause of death after birth defects, with three dying every day, and it’s the second leading cause of accidental death after vehicle crashes for those ages 1 to 14.
Although the CDC reports that drowning death rates have declined by 32% over the past decade, water safety experts say that’s not enough.
A June CDC report noted that longstanding racial disparities in drowning deaths have not improved since 1999. According to the report, Black Americans are 1.5 times more likely to die from drowning than white Americans, a legacy of Jim Crow laws barring Black people from public swimming pools and beaches, preventing many of them from learning how to swim and engaging in competitive aquatic sports.
Although the number of annual drowning deaths is relatively low in a country of 330 million — there are 10 times as many annual traffic deaths, for example — public health experts say water safety is worth focusing on because nearly all drowning deaths are preventable.
“These deaths do not have to occur. It really is something we should be ashamed of and be energized to address when we see that thousands of us are dying every year from drowning,” said Shannon Frattaroli, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. State public health agencies aren’t doing enough to develop and enforce proven water safety policies, she said, primarily because they receive no federal funding.
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