Drowning Deaths in US Suddenly Spike

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Deaths from drownings are back on the rise after decades of declines, with young children seeing the biggest increase.

Between 2020 and 2022, more than 4,500 people in the U.S. died from drowning each of those years, according to a new report from the CDC. In 2019, there were just over 4,000 drowning deaths.

Among young children aged 1 to 4, there were 461 drowning deaths in 2022, a 28% jump compared to 2019.

The pandemic was thought to be a contributor to the sudden increase, according to the CDC, with many more children at home, often unsupervised, near pools and other bodies of water. With many pools closed, swim lessons were also harder to come by.

A stock image of a child swimming in a pool. Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for children ages one to four in the U.S.

Dann Tardiff/Contributor/Getty Images

“Parents need to know that drowning is the number one cause of death for kids ages 1 to 4,” Caroline Picard, senior health editor at the parenting website What to Expect, told Newsweek. “This new CDC report also tells us that these deaths are increasing, and it’s really important that parents and caregivers know how they can keep children safe when they’re around water.”

For young children, drownings happen most frequently in home pools, according to Picard. For babies, baththubs pose the biggest risk.

“This report reminds us that it’s important to watch children around water wherever you are — not just at the beach or water park, but also when you’re at home giving a bath or playing outside near a kiddie pool,” Picard said.

“If you have a pool at home, it needs to be securely fenced at all times so children can’t enter it unattended,” she said.

She also added age-appropriate, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets can help, though “these aren’t a substitute for closely watching your child.”

But most importantly, Picard suggests signing children up for swim lessons, which the American Academy of Pediatrics says can can be beneficial to children as young as one.

“There are low-cost options available through organizations like the Red Cross and YMCA that can teach your child safety habits and swimming skills, but again, you should still closely watch children in the water even if they’ve had lessons,” Picard said.

Not just kids

Adults over the age of 65 had the second highest rate of drowning, per the report, which noted that some 40 million adults in the U.S. cannot swim.

Drowning deaths are not equally distributed across races and ethnicities, according to the CDC. American Indian or Alaska Native people have consistently had higher drowning rates than any other race and ethnic group.

Black Americans have the second highest drowning rates. In 2021, drowning increased by 28% among Black people compared to 2019, according to the CDC.

The CDC reports that 72% of Hispanic adults have never taken a swimming lesson, while about two in three Black adults have never taken a lesson.

The agency notes the “differences in access to swimming lessons,” which can be expensive or may not be easily accessed in some communities.

The U.S. National Water Safety Action plan also helps states and local communities identify preventative measures, including recommendations for improving basic swimming and water safety skills training.

“No one should have to lose a child to drowning,” said Dr. Tessa Clemens, a health scientist in CDC’s Division of Injury Prevention and the lead author of the report.