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Drowning deaths on the rise after decades of decline

The CDC says making swimming lessons more accessible can help save lives.
Swimming pool
Posted at 10:08 AM, May 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-16 12:08:35-04

Drowning deaths in the U.S. are on the rise for the first time in decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 4,500 people drowned each year from 2020 to 2022, which is 500 more per year than in 2019, the CDC said.

The CDC says making swimming lessons more accessible can help save lives.

Over half of U.S. adults — 55% — have never taken a swimming lesson, according to CDC data. And 40 million adults don’t know how to swim.

This helped make groups already at higher risk for drowning even more vulnerable in recent years.

Young children, older adults, and Black people — all groups with historically higher drowning rates — saw the most increases in deaths over the past few years.

“Differences in access to swimming lessons are one barrier that could contribute to these outcomes. Swimming lessons can be expensive or may not be available in some communities,” the CDC said in a press release. “When swimming lessons are available, some people may be hesitant to participate due to complex social and cultural factors. Everyone should have access to basic swimming and water safety skills training.”

The most common cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 is drowning. For this age group, drowning deaths were 28% higher in 2022 than in 2019.

People 65 and older had the second highest rate of drowning. Drowning deaths were 19% higher for adults 65 and up in 2022 compared to in 2019.

American Indian or Alaska Native people had higher drowning rates than any other race or ethnic group, but drowning deaths among them did not realize a spike in recent years.

Black people, who have the second highest drowning rates, experienced 28% more drownings in 2021 than in 2019.

About 37% of Black people in the U.S. reported not knowing how to swim, compared to 15% of adults overall.

Community actions that can be taken to prevent drowning include revitalizing public pools, hiring diverse aquatic staff, making swim lessons affordable, and adapting lessons to community needs, the CDC says.