Madeleine Nemergut: A neglected public health crisis … at your local swimming pool – Post Bulletin

How do 11 people die per day in the United States? What kills more children than adults and is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths worldwide, according to the United Nations? Not car accidents, plane crashes, or even natural disasters. It’s drowning.

In the U.S. alone, drowning is the leading cause of death of children ages 1 to 4. Although the word typically brings to mind an image of a weak swimmer struggling in a pool to keep their head above water, such is not the case in reality. More than 10% of fatal drownings occur when an adult or lifeguard is present and watching – most victims do not show signs of struggle until they become unconscious.

Additionally, individuals are at risk for a phenomenon known as “dry drowning,” occurring when one is not actively in the water. If someone breathes in large amounts of water, the lungs may spasm, causing the airway to close. Due to a lack of oxygen to the brain and heart, the person becomes unconscious, quickly going into cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of roughly 10% to 20% of fatal drownings begin out of the water. Even the strongest swimmers can drown – cramps, breath-holding exercises, and changes in weather conditions can become fatal.

Swimming is an essential life skill. However, only 41% of U.S. children can execute basic swimming skills, according to a Red Cross survey in 2015. Furthermore, drowning disproportionately affects minority populations and individuals of low socioeconomic status. In pools, Black children ages 10 to 14 are more than seven times more likely to drown than white children of the same age. Among all ages and situations, white people are almost three times less likely to drown than Black individuals.

Moreover, over 90% of the over 350,000 yearly fatal drowning cases worldwide occur in low-income areas and countries. This data on drowning fatalities illustrates that continuing disparities need to be addressed because they affect all areas of an individual’s life.

During the summer of 2021, Rochester Public Pools had more than100 in-water rescues over the course of less than three months, more than three times the average from previous years. Almost all were children who had not had the opportunity to have swimming lessons.

The present demand for swim lessons is much greater than the availability, with providers around the country enforcing months-long waitlists – another obstacle to ensuring safety during the summer months.

Additionally, programming disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic have widened the gap between strong and weak swimmers. In Minnesota, public school districts are removing swimming requirements from physical education classes, which provide all students with fundamental water safety skills at no cost. Rochester middle schools no longer offer basic swimming instruction due to plans to fill in the pools at Willow Creek, John Adams, and Kellogg; if Rochester’s private schools are included, there are now no elementary or middle schools offering water safety and skills classes.

Drowning can be prevented by supervision and education. Although the demand for swim lessons outweighs the supply, free, public community swim lessons are being offered through the Rochester Swim Club at the end of June.

Having lifeguards present in a pool facility does not guarantee complete safety. Parents and guardians must be active observers at the pool; too many children do not take the lifeguards enforcing the rules seriously, often ending in serious accidents. Although some pools offer alcoholic beverages, intoxication leads to impaired judgment and reflexes; a deadly combination in situations where bodies of water are present.

In short, be alert and engaged. Don’t allow your loved ones to become part of the silent epidemic.

Madeleine Nemergut will be a senior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters,

[email protected]


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