New study urges early swim lessons

A new study suggests that young children who learn to swim in formal lessons are less likely to drown. The study contradicts an earlier American Academy of Pediatrics opinion that said lessons before the age of 5 can give parents a false sense of security that actually increases drowning risk.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) looked at the incidence of child drowning in six states over a two-year period. They discovered that 97 percent of children ages 1 to 4 that drowned had not taken swimming lessons. Their conclusion: Formal swim lessons are associated with an 88 percent reduction in the risk of toddler drowning. (Read the study.)

“We are confident that swimming lessons do not increase drowning risk in this age group and likely have a protective effect,” according to Ruth A. Brenner, M.D., MPH, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), one of the authors of the report, which was published in the March 2009 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Health.

Bob Hubbard, owner of Hubbard Family Swim School, was quick to applaud the new research. “It conveys a message to families that swim lessons are not only a valuable learning and health tool but also a confirmed layer of protection against drowning accidents,” he says. Many Valley swim programs—including Hubbard’s—offer parent-tot swim lessons for children as young as six months old.

“My recommendation based on the scientific research is that it’s okay to include swimming lessons as a part of a multi-faceted approach to preventing drowning,” says pediatrician Jeffrey Weiss, M.D., of Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “However, it’s important not to drop your guard. Even the best swimmers can drown.”

Swim and medical experts agree that effective barriers to pool entry, consistent adult supervision and CPR training for parents and caregivers are critical to preventing child drowning.