By Margarita Nahapetyan
Learning to swim between the ages of 1 and 4, may help to reduce the risk of drowning in young children, according to new findings.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has always recommended that kids should be taught to swim only after the age of 5. According to them, there has not been enough scientific evidence on the benefits of toddler swimming. This has been a subject for a debate for many years, and while some people believe that even infants must learn swimming in order to be protected against drowning, others think that by learning to swim at such an early age children lose the fear of water, therefore increasing their chances for drowning.
However, the new study, conducted by the researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, showed the long-awaited evidence on the protective effects of swimming lessons in children between 1 and 4.
For the study, a lead researcher Dr. Ruth A. Brenner, of the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research at the Institute, and colleagues examined the link between swimming classes and drowning in U.S. children aged between 1 and 19 in six different states. They interviewed the parents of 88 kids who died in drowning incidents between the years of 2003 and 2005. They also interviewed the families of a control group youths of the same age and gender, and who lived in the same area as the deceased victims.
The results revealed that out of 61 kids who drowned, only 2 (3 per cent) had ever been taught formal swimming, to compare with 35 out of 134 youngsters of the same age from the control group (26 per cent). Parents of the drowned children said that their kids were not skilled swimmers, with 5 per cent being able to float on the back for 10 seconds, in comparison with 18 per cent of children from the control group. Dr. Brenner wrote in a government news release that based on those calculations, the researchers are now very sure that swimming lessons by no means elevate the risk of drowning in toddlers and may even have a protective effect.
The link between swimming classes and drowning incidents was not statistically significant among kids aged 5 to 19, the researchers said. Among 27 children who drowned in this age group, 7 (26 per cent) had attended swimming classes. As to kids from the control group - 42 out of 70 (53 per cent) had been taught swimming in formal lessons.
However, the experts noted that just attending swimming lessons alone will not be enough in order to protect a child from drowning. They wrote that families and caregivers should remember that even professional swimmers are not guaranteed and insured from drowning. They added that in their research many young victims from the older age group had more or less good swimming skills. Forty-eight per cent of 5 to 19 years kids who had died in a drowning accident could swim more than 50 feet, and 58 per cent were able to swim non-stop for at least one minute.
In the conclusion, the authors said that according to their findings, swimming lessons could be considered as an addition to a complete prevention program, together with fencing for pools, necessary supervision by adults, and training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation for both parents and caregivers.
The study appears in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.