Posted on March 4, 2019


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.

What’s the Problem?

Each year, about 4,000 people drown in the United States; drowning kills more children 1-4 years of age than anything else except birth defects. Among children 1-14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death (after motor vehicle crashes). More than half of those who are treated in an emergency department for drowning require hospitalization or transfer for further care (compared with about 6% of all unintentional injuries). A person who survives drowning may suffer lasting consequences like brain damage.

Who’s at Risk?

  • Children and young adults: Drowning rates are highest mainly for children under 5 years of age and persons 15-24 years of age. How children drown tends to vary by age. For example, children under age one most often drown in bathtubs, buckets, and toilets. Children 1-4 most often drown in swimming pools, hot tubs, and spas. Older children, teens and young adults typically drown in natural water settings, such as lakes and rivers.
  • Males: Nearly 80% of people who die from drowning are male.
  • Minorities: Between 2005 and 2009, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity increases among children 5-14 years old. The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range. The disparity is most pronounced when looking at drowning that happens in swimming pools; African American children 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of whites. This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years where African Americans drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites. These disparities might be associated with lack of basic swim skill in some minority populations.

In addition, alcohol use can increase the risk of drowning. Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths that occur during water recreation, almost a quarter of ED visits for drowning, and about one in five reported boating deaths.