Wednesday, November 12, 2008

We're Anti-Pool People

One of the perks of being married to someone who was trained in medicine is that you get to hear constantly about the health risks of various activities, including bad eating, drinking, and gun ownership. Recently, V. and I have been gently debating the risks of having a pool in the backyard of our future home. Despite the fact that residents of SE Queensland are a short drive from the ocean, and they repeatedly face water restrictions, they just love their backyard pools (this is easily confirmed when you fly over Brisbane). V., however, feels very strongly that we should never have a least until Will is an adult. Her certainty on this matter reminds me of a passage in Levitt's and Dubner's Freakonomics about the decision to send one's child to a house with guns or one with pools:
Consider the parents of an eight-year-old girl named, say, Molly. Her two best friends, Amy and Imani, each live nearby. Molly's parents know that Amy's parents keep a gun in their house, so they have forbidden Molly to play there. Instead, Molly spends a lot of time at Imani's house, which has a swimming pool in the backyard. Molly's parents feel good about having made such a smart choice to protect their daughter.

But according to the data, their choice isn't smart at all. In a given year, there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States. (In a country with 6 million pools, this means that roughly 550 children under the age of ten drown each year.) Meanwhile, there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million-plus guns. (In a country with an estimated 200 million guns, this means that roughly 175 children under ten die each year from guns.) The likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million-plus) isn't even close: Molly is roughly 100 times more likely to die in a swimming accident at Imani's house than in gunplay at Amy's.
To further support my wife's brilliance, here are few more U.S. statistics that I found on a pool alarm website:
* Six people drown in U.S. pools every day. Many of these pools are public facilities staffed with certified professional lifeguards.  Centers for Disease Control

* Drowning is the 4th leading cause of accidental death in the United States, claiming 4,000 lives annually. Approximately one-third are children under the age of 14.  American Institute for Preventive Medicine

* Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death among children under the age of 15.  National Center for Health Statistics

* A child can drown in the time it takes to answer a phone.  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

* 19% of drowning deaths involving children occur in public pools with certified lifeguards present.  Drowning Prevention Foundation

* A swimming pool is 14 times more likely than a motor vehicle to be involved in the death of a child age 4 and under.  Orange County California Fire Authority

* Children under five and adolescents between the ages of 15-24 have the highest drowning rates.  American Academy of Pediatrics

* For every child who drowns, four are hospitalized for near drowning.  American Academy of Pediatrics

* An estimated 5,000 children ages 14 and under are hospitalized due to near-drownings each year; 15 percent die in the hospital and as many as 20 percent suffer severe, permanent neurological disability.  Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention

* Of all preschoolers who drown, 70 percent are in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning and 75 percent are missing from sight for five minutes or less.  Orange County, CA, Fire Authority

* In 10 states - Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington - drowning surpasses all other causes of death to children age 14 and under. Orange County, CA, Fire Authority
Needless to say, I'm with V. on this one.


Mooselet said...

There is, of course, a way to help prevent drownings - teach your child to swim! You can't avoid pools here. Even if you don't own one or rent a house that has one chances are several of his friends will. Many primary schools have them as well and kids have "lessons" starting in Year 1. Fair enough that you don't want a pool, but lessons should be a must.

Full disclosure - we have a pool. We replaced the dilapidated fencing when we bought the house and have one 1 gate (the previous fencing had 3). That gate is NEVER propped open and is always locked when no one is in the pool. The keys are hung out of reach of anyone under 5'6". Her Majesty has had lessons since the age of 19 months, and Clive started when he was 4 months. Only the older kids are allowed out there alone, and even then I keep a close ear on them.

The Prof said...

V. is a great swimmer, having participated in her high school swim team. And she's also a firm believer in swim lessons. When I asked her if we could have a pool on the condition that Will becomes a young nipper (one of those kids that learn lifesaving), she thought we might be able to have one then, as long as I'm always with him. So...

You're certainly right that a kid in Brisbane will visit another house with a pool. I look forward to seeing how V. is going to handle those situations! :-)

barbara said...

I agree with mooselet. Your child will come in contact with pools whether you have one or not, it is really important for him to learn to swim. I would send him before he goes off to school so he can learn with his parents nearby for support.

Mooselet said...

Her Majesty swims better than I do - no joke, she can breast stroke and is learning butterfly whereas I can do a passable freestyle stroke at best - but I won't let her go out to the pool alone. Nor will I until she's well into double digits. No reason why Will can't start lessons now and still be a little nipper when he's old enough.

diowa said...

Hicks that we are, we swim in the pond on the back forty. Needless to say, the kidlings were in swimming lessons by the age of two. Does wonders for parental peace of mind. They have also survived dirtbikes, riding the horses bareback and scaling the outside of the massive rock fireplace. Ironically, we've never allowed them a trampoline...I think it makes a difference which accidents those med students see during training.

Mummy B said...

I looked into the drowning statistics recently myself after stumbling across the website for "Hannah's Foundation" - started by the parents of a Laidley toddler (approximately 45 minutes further out then Ipswich) who drowned in her backyard pool.

The thing that scared me most about their story is that they had a pool fence and they were vigilant! Their daughter pulled a plastic chair up to the pool fence and opened the gate while her mother turned away for 3 minutes to change her baby brothers nappy.

All three of our boys have weekly swimming lessons, everyone who has commented here is absolutely right there is no avoiding backyard swimming pools in this country. I also think Hannah's story illustrates that tragedy can strike anywhere even if you think you've done all you can (installing a pool fence etc). Such fragile things these littlies of ours :) So many dangers in this world of ours!

Audra said...

Gee, it sounds like a question of whether you want your kid to drown at home or at a friends house. I say lock him in his room until he is forty.

The Prof said...

The Australian "60 Minutes" aired a good story about pool drownings this past Sunday (16/11). They interviewed Hannah's parents, which was really hard to watch. :-(