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Press Release

Embargoed until noon
June 3, 2004
Contact: Injury Media Relations

Balance Fun and Safety To Enjoy Recreational Water Activities: CDC Study Shows Impact of Water Dangers

Pools, lakes, and oceans can provide hours of summer fun and physical activity, but recreational waters can also be dangerous. In 2001, more than 3300 people drowned and 4,100 people were treated in an emergency department for nonfatal drowning injuries in the United States according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study released today. More than half of those treated in emergency departments required hospital admission or transfer for higher levels of care. Other research studies indicate that these nonfatal drownings may result in brain damage or other long-term adverse effects.

Published in the June 4th issue of the CDC journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC researchers note that this is the first national estimate for nonfatal drowning injuries treated in emergency departments. Children ages four or younger and males of all ages were at the greatest risk.

The study found that for those that occurred either in a pool or natural water setting, an estimated 75% of nonfatal injuries occurred in pools, while 70% of the fatalities occurred in natural water settings. The most common locations of nonfatal injuries for the very young children were residential pools. As children grow older, more injuries occur in natural water settings. The study also confirmed that injuries happen most often on weekends and during summer months – times when people typically enjoy water-related activities.

“Recreational water sites are wonderful places for family fun and physical activity,” said CDC Injury Center Acting Director Dr. Ileana Arias. “Balancing the risks means keeping your family safe by choosing locations with life-guards, using Coast Guard-approved personal floatation devices, supervising children and avoiding alcohol use. Take advantage of local swimming lessons and CPR classes for added safety around the water.”

Effective drowning prevention strategies are:

  • Make sure an adult is constantly watching children swimming or playing in or around the water. Do not read, play cards, talk on the phone, mow the lawn, or do any other distracting activity while supervising children around water.
  • Install four-sided pool fencing to prevent a child’s unsupervised access to pools. Additionally, gate locks, weight bearing covers, and alarms may also help.
  • Choose a site with lifeguards whenever possible.
  • Consistent use of Coast Guard-approved personal floatation devices in and around recreational water activities can help if someone falls in or steps unexpectedly into an underwater drop off.
  • Avoid alcohol use before and during aquatic activities. Alcohol impairs balance, coordination and judgment.
  • Swimming instruction and water safety training can help people prepare for hazardous water environments (such as currents, rip currents, waves and underwater obstacles like riverbed rocks).
  • Know CPR – studies have shown that by-standers can help to save lives by starting CPR before emergency response teams arrive.

Study authors note that these data did not include any intentional actions or non-recreational water incidents such as those in bathtubs, buckets, toilets or the result of motor vehicles submerged in water.

For more information on injury prevention, visit CDC’s website at

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CDC protects people's health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national, and international organizations.


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