Drowning Risk Greater for Immigrants: Study

Mike Barber, Edmonton Journal, July 15, 2010

New Canadians face a significantly higher risk of drowning while enjoying aquatic activities, as a study released Thursday suggests immigrants are four times more likely to be unable to swim than native-born Canadians.

The study, conducted by the Lifesaving Society, found that about one in five newcomers don’t know how to swim, compared to one in 20 people born in Canada. The research is being billed as the first in Canada to examine the links between ethnicity and the ability to swim.

The survey was conducted with 433 Canadian-born adults and 599 immigrants from South Asia, China, and Southeast Asia, as well as Muslim immigrants.

Seventy-nine per cent of new Canadians said they anticipated to spend time this summer on or near water, but 19 per cent reported not being able to swim. Seventy-three per cent of people who had been in Canada less than five years said they feared for their children’s lives when they were near water.

Drowning is the second leading cause of preventable death in Canada for children under the age of 10.

“The results point to the need for water safety education targeted to reach new immigrants, especially those who have been living in Canada for less than five years,” said Barbara Byers, the society’s public education director.

Supporting that sentiment were the 92 per cent of immigrants who said learning to swim is a “necessary life skill,” while 93 per cent said children should learn to swim in school.

The report’s release comes amid a spate of drowning deaths across the country, including 10 in a recent 10-day period in Ontario from the end of June to the beginning of July.

As of Wednesday, there were 187 drownings across Canada in 2010, according to the society. The unofficial number is tracked through media and police reports. Using the same tracking tools, there were 161 deaths by the same day in 2009.

The heat wave that scorched Central Canada earlier this month likely contributed to many of the recent deaths, said Byers.

Byers said that during heat waves, people are often more inclined to go to swimming pools to cool off. In a normal year, about one of every 10 drowning deaths happens in a pool. This year, 28 per cent of deaths have occurred at pools, including five of the 10 in Ontario.

The study was released ahead of National Drowning Prevention Week, which runs from July 19-25. It will feature education programs that focus on the importance of wearing a life-jacket, avoiding alcohol while swimming or driving a boat, and taking swimming lessons–especially when young.

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