79 percent of kids from low-income families at risk for drowning, swimming study finds

A USA Swimming Foundation study shows that while there has been notable improvement in the ability of young swimmers, there is still work to be done.

The 2017 study showed that children’s overall swimming skills have gotten better by between 5 and 10 percent since the study was previously conducted in 2010.

However, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and University of Memphis-led study revealed that a high number of children are still at risk for drowning.

According to the study, 64 percent of young African-Americans, 45 percent of Hispanics and 40 percent of Caucasians have little to no swimming ability.

The study also found that nearly 87 percent of those with little to no swimming ability plan to visit a swimming facility at least once this summer.

USA Swimming Foundation Executive Director Debbie Hesse said that a lack of emphasis on drowning dangers might be to blame.

“Each individual parent really needs to take responsibility,” Hesse said. “Even though it’s not a law that we need to learn to swim, it’s really important for us to make sure that every child gets into swimming.”

Family’s impact on swimming skills

The USA Swimming Foundation study found that whether or not a child’s parents are strong swimmers can have a significant influence on a child’s own ability.

If parents can’t swim well, it is 70 percent likely that a child will have the same low or non-existent ability, according to the study.

The results are a 17 percent improvement from the 2010 study, which found that kids were 87 percent more likely to be non-swimmers if their parents were.

“We feel that once a child learns how to swim, they will [teach swimming] to their own children because they know what a life skill it is,” Hesse said.

Children are 4.3 times more likely to be good swimmers if their parents also have the ability. Swimming together as a fun, family activity also promotes a child’s skills in the water, the study showed.

The role of socioeconomic factors

The survey showed that 79 percent of children from families earning less than $50,000 per year tend to have low to no swimming ability – a tragic finding, said Hesse.

Children who qualify for free or reduced school lunch also tend to fall behind in terms of swimming skills.

“What we’ve realized is [families with] limited financial resources don’t necessarily make swimming a life skill,” said Hesse, who added that the Foundation views swimming skills as just as essential as securing a child into a car seat.

Afraid of the water: How fear interferes

Much of the hesitation of getting in the water and learning to swim stems from fear of drowning, the study showed.

Kids are 67 percent more likely to be non-swimmers if they fear drowning. The study also found that African-American families are three times more afraid to drown than Caucasian families.

“We don’t want people to be afraid,” Hesse said. “We want people to have fun and embrace the experience because they know how to swim and they feel qualified.”

Children who understand water safety are 3.7 times more likely to be stronger swimmers.

Fostering young swimmers

The USA Swimming Foundation's goal is to reach every child in the country through its Make a Splash program. Children are taught to swim for little to no cost through more than 850 local partner organizations.

Make a Splash also utilizes the star power of Olympic swimmers including Simone Manuel and Cullen Jones to spread their message.

“[Our local partners are] Red Cross programs, they’re recreational departments, they’re YMCAs,” Hesse said. “They are these awesome ambassadors in their communities promoting how important it is for every child to learn to swim.”

Through Make a Splash, the USA Swimming Foundation has provided affordable swimming lessons for more than 4.9 million children since 2007.