88 percent of children who drown are under the supervision of another person

New research revealed today by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and Johnson & Johnson shows that 88 percent of children who drowned were under the supervision of another person, usually a family member. Supervision was defined as being in the care of another individual, not necessarily in their direct line of sight.

While better quality supervision is critical, the study also found that many adults were not properly fencing pools, requiring use of personal flotation devices (PFDs), or teaching their children how to swim. Additionally, SAFE KIDS found that the majority (55 percent) of parents say they are "not at all worried" or "not very worried" about their child drowning.

Drowning remains the second leading injury-related killer of children ages one-14, claiming more than 900 children's lives each year. It is a complex issue with no single safety device that works in all cases. Water safety entails the understanding and practice of four water safety wisdoms – supervision, environment, gear and education.

SAFE KIDS examined the circumstances of drowning deaths occurring in 2000 and 2001 among 496 children using data from Child Death Review Teams in 17 states. SAFE KIDS also commissioned nationally representative surveys of parents (of children 14 and under) and children ages eight through 12 to determine knowledge, attitudes and behaviors concerning water safety.

The research was released today by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, Olympic gold medalist Jenny Thompson and pediatric trauma surgeon Dr. Martin Eichelberger to launch National SAFE KIDS Week – May 1 through 8, 2004 – a week-long, nationwide, public education campaign.

"Adults need to actively supervise children around water. This means watching and listening at all times and staying close enough to intervene in an emergency," says Dr. Eichelberger, director of Emergency Trauma Services at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and CEO of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. "We know that parents are well-meaning and don’t want to put their children at risk."

"We want kids to be active and enjoy swimming but we want them to do it safely," adds Dr. Carmona. "Drowning is a silent killer that can strike even older, more experienced child swimmers."

Study Results


  • More than half (55 percent) of parents say there are some circumstances where it is acceptable for a child to swim unsupervised.
  • Even when parents say they are supervising, many are participating in a variety of distracting behaviors including talking to others (38 percent), reading (18 percent), eating (17 percent) and talking on the phone (11 percent).

SAFE KIDS recommends adults take turns serving as the "water watcher" – whose sole responsibility is to constantly observe children in or near the water.


  • While 98 percent of pool- or spa-owning parents report they have taken adequate steps to ensure children's safety, most have not made the necessary environmental changes.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of pool or spa-owning parents do not have isolation fencing around their pools or spas and 43 percent have no self-closing and self-latching gate.

Installation and proper use of four-sided isolation fencing could prevent 50-90 percent of residential pool drownings.


  • Many tweens (kids aged eight to 12) admit they never wear a life jacket when riding on a personal watercraft (50 percent), participating in water sports (37 percent) or on a boat (16 percent).
  • One in five parents (19 percent) mistakenly believes that air-filled water wings can protect their child from drowning.

It is estimated that 85 percent of boat-related drownings could be prevented if all passengers were wearing properly fitting life vests.


  • Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of drowning victims studied did not know how to swim. Seventy-three percent of victims ages five to nine and 30 percent of victims ages 10 to 14 were non-swimmers.
  • Although the majority of parents agree that all children should have swimming instruction by the age of eight, 37 percent of parents report that their child has never taken lessons.

SAFE KIDS recommends that children should be enrolled in swimming lessons with a certified instructor by the age of eight.

Splash Into Safety

Throughout SAFE KIDS Week hundreds of SAFE KIDS coalitions and chapters will conduct safety fairs and community events all across the nation to teach families how to prevent recreational water injuries and save lives. As part of this initiative, the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies has created an informative Water Safety Checklist (in English and Spanish) to help parents determine their own level of knowledge of water injury prevention for their children. The test is being distributed at community events and through retail stores along with safety information and a free-standing insert of coupons to 45 million households across the nation.

Johnson & Johnson also is supporting SAFE KIDS Week with a national advertising campaign and a donation of 2,000 personal flotation devices to SAFE KIDS coalitions across the country. Johnson & Johnson has developed a marketing partnership with Turner Broadcasting to distribute public education advertorials supporting SAFE KIDS Week 2004.

For more information or for a copy of the SAFE KIDS/Johnson & Johnson Clear Danger: A National Study of Childhood Drowning and Related Attitudes and Behaviors, contact the National SAFE KIDS Campaign at (202) 662-0600 or visit www.safekids.org.

Johnson & Johnson, with approximately 109,500 employees, is the world's most comprehensive and broadly-based manufacturer of health care products, as well as a provider of related services, for the consumer, pharmaceutical and medical devices and diagnostics markets. Johnson & Johnson has more than 200 operating companies in 57 countries around the world, selling products in more than 175 countries.

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign is the first and only national nonprofit organization dedicated solely to the prevention of unintentional childhood injury – the number one killer of children ages 14 and under. More than 300 state and local SAFE KIDS coalitions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico comprise the campaign.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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