Report Finds a Gap Persists in Swimming

Kevin Helliker, Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2010

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{snip} [A] problem USA Swimming hopes to highlight Thursday in a report [shows] that 70% of African-American children and 58% of Hispanic children have little or no swimming ability, compared with 40% of Caucasian children.

Evidence of a continued swimming gap comes as the economic slowdown has cut back opportunities for inner-city kids to swim. {snip}

The report, including interviews with children and parents in several cities, revealed that the biggest barrier to inner-city swimming proficiency isn’t a lack of pools and instructors, but parents’ fear of water.

Among low-income families, “many parents wouldn’t let kids swim even if lessons were free, a theme that was tested four times in different focus groups,” according to a summary of the study, conducted by Richard Irwin, professor of health and sports sciences at the University of Memphis. “Overall, fear trumped financial concerns across all respondent race groups in low-income families.”

The low swimming-proficiency rate reflects both the prohibition against blacks in public pools that lasted well into the civil-rights era and a legacy of bogus science that, as recently as the 1970s, claimed blacks were biologically disadvantaged in water. In an interview, Dr. Irwin said black parents who can’t swim often go to incredible lengths to keep their children away from water. {snip}

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5- to 14-year-old African-Americans drowned at 3.1 times the rate of whites in that age range, from 2000 to 2006. And in that period African-American kids were five times as likely as white kids to drown in swimming pools, in some cases inches from safety. {snip}

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