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Kids' Drowning Deaths Increase for First Time in Decades, CDC Reports

Drowning is the no. 1 cause of death among children 1-4 years old. See why experts believe there’s been an increase and what you can do to keep your child safe.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published May 29, 2024
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Image: Arina P Habich | Shutterstock

As temperatures rise and more families head out to the pool, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging Americans to keep water safety in mind.

For the first time in two decades, the CDC is reporting an increase in drowning deaths. According to 2022 data, drowning deaths have increased by around 10 percent in recent years, adding 500 to 600 deaths to a total that already stands at approximately 4,000 deaths annually. Children ages 1-4 years old have seen a 28 percent increase in drowning deaths since 2019—with drowning cited as the no. 1 cause of death for preschool children.

For Black children, this increase can be even more dramatic. Black people saw drowning rates increase faster than the general population. Compared with 2019, they were nearly 30 percent higher in 2021. The CDC’s swimming skills survey also found that 1 in 3 Black adults said they couldn’t swim, compared with 1 in 7 adults in the general population, a result of generations of segregation and discrimination in access to swimming pools, according to the organization.

While the CDC does not provide a definitive answer as to why drowning deaths may be increasing among children, experts point to a decrease in swim lesson availability and pool access during the pandemic. As pools and public water spaces reopen children may be ill-equipped to navigate new waters.

So what can you do to keep your child safe around water this summer? The CDC emphasizes the importance of teaching children basic swimming and water safety skills. You can find free and subsidized swimming lessons in your area at CDC.gov. The organization also recommends parents install barriers at home to prevent unsupervised pool access and designate an adult to watch children closely when they are around water. Check out these additional water safety tips.

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