CDC: Drowning Rates Are Rising Among Specific Populations

Rates of drowning in the United States have significantly increased over the past few years, especially among young children, older adults, and Black and Hispanic individuals. Meanwhile, survey data shows around 40 million U.S. adults don't know how to swim.

Unintentional drowning claims the lives of around 4,000 people in the United States each year. It is the leading cause of death among children ages one to four and one of the three leading causes of death among people five to 34 years old.

Drowning rates were on a downward trend in the U.S. However, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) released on May 14, new data shows that rates of drowning fatalities are rising.

Using data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) mortality files for 2019 to 2022, CDC investigators found that unintentional drowning rates were 1.2 per 100,000 in 2019. However, 2020 rates increased by 10.5% to 1.4 per 100,000. In 2021, drowning rates jumped to 13.7% but fell slightly in 2022 to 9.1%.

Further analysis showed that overall, drowning death rates were higher among males.

Still, the highest rates occurred in children aged one to four years. Compared with 2019 data, drowning fatality rates increased by nearly 29% in 2021 and just over 28% in 2022.

People aged 65 years and older experienced the second-highest jump in drowning rates. CDC data showed that compared with 2019, drowning fatality rates rose by 19% in 2022 among people 65 to 74 years and increased by nearly 50% in people 85 years or older in 2021.

Individuals ages 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 experienced the most significant jump in drowning death rates from 2019 to 2020.

Moreover, the data showed high drowning rates among non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black individuals.

Why are unintentional drowning rates on the rise?

The CDC suggests that although it did not take alcohol use into account when analyzing the data, drinking is a significant risk factor for drowning among teens and adults. Moreover, previous research revealed that 25% to 61% of people aged 15 to 34 years report drinking alcohol during water activities. The agency says this may be why drowning death rates increased in this age group.

In addition, the high drowning fatality rates found among older people align with trends identified in previous analyses that show rates have been rising for decades.

The CDC also surveyed U.S. adults and found that 55% have never taken a swimming lesson, and 15.4% — an estimated 40 million adults — said they didn't know how to swim.

Groups least likely to know how to swim were women, older adults, and Black and Hispanic individuals. While men are more likely to experience drowning than women, this could help explain why drowning rates are higher among the other groups.

The CDC says that the increasing rates of unintentional drowning and the lack of swimming knowledge or lessons underscore the need to reduce barriers to swimming programs and water safety training for those at risk.

Moreover, high drowning fatality rates among young children highlight the need for implementing more drowning prevention strategies. These include installing four-sided pool fencing, providing constant supervision while children are around water sources, using life jackets, and signing children up for swimming lessons as soon as they are ready and able.

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