Minority Children Urged to Take Swimming Lessons as Summer Approaches

African-American youth are three times more likely to drown than whites of the same age.

Posted: 05/30/2012 02:58 PM EDT

As we approach pool season, it's important to keep in mind that many people don't know how to swim, especially the young.

According to USA Swimming Foundation, 70 percent of Black and Latino youth do not know how to swim. And what makes this a problem is Black children ages 5-14 are three times more likely to drown and die in pools, lakes and other forms of water than white children the same age. Experts from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission say these deaths happen because the children did not know how to swim.

To bridge these gaps, the commission is kicking off a new campaign geared for Black and Latino youth called "Pool Safely." Part of this initiative works with the Y, the American Red Cross, public schools and other community organizations to boost access to free swimming lessons.

Inez Tenenbaum, the commission's chairman, told the Associated Press, “We are focusing on minority children because the data show they are most at risk for drowning.”

She added, "It's a cultural issue, because many African-American and Hispanic children have parents and grandparents who never learned to swim."

CBS.com also reported on this program:

Tenenbaum noted that swimming is a featured activity in First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" fitness initiative, and she encouraged parents who don't know how to swim to make swimming lessons a family activity.

At Thursday's announcement, Tenenbaum will be joined by representatives from the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, USA Swimming and the Josh Project, a non-profit which teaches minority children to swim.

Drowning rates among African-Americans increase through childhood and peak at 15 to 19 years of age, according to the CDC. Factors such as the physical environment — such as access to swimming pools — and a combination of social and cultural issues (e.g., wanting to learn how to swim, and choosing recreational water-related activities) may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates.

According to Safekids.org, here are some tips to help prevent drowning.

—Actively supervise your children around water at all times, and have a phone nearby to call for help in an emergency.
—Make sure your pool has four-sided fencing and a self-closing, self-latching gate to prevent a child from wandering into the pool area unsupervised. In addition, hot tubs should be covered and locked when not in use.
—Install a door alarm, a window alarm or both to alert you if a child wanders into the pool area unsupervised.
—From the start, teach children to never go near or in water without an adult present.
—Enroll your child in swimming lessons after age 4 — typically the earliest age when they are likely to practice and retain information. Teach children how to tread water, float and stay by the shore.
—Learn CPR and know how to respond in water emergencies.

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(Photo: Mark Almond/Birmingham News/Landov)