Some people believe even babies should be taught to swim to help protect against drowning. Others say swimming lessons too early in life could decrease a child’s fear of water and give parents a false sense of security, thus increasing a toddler’s risk of drowning. A long-awaited study published March 2 concludes that swimming lessons for children ages 1 to 4 lowers the risk of drowning. The study looked at the association between drowning and swimming lessons in people ages 1 to 19 in six states. Interviews were conducted with the families of 88 children who drowned between 2003 and 2005 and with the families of 213 control children who were the same age and gender and lived in the same county as those who drowned.
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found that among the 61 children ages 1 to 4 who drowned, 3% had taken formal swimming lessons. In contrast, 26% of the children in the control group had taken swimming lessons.
Parent interviews also suggested that children who drowned were less skilled swimmers: Only 5% of them were able to float on their back for 10 seconds, compared with 18% of the children in the control group.