November 2011 Feedback: A Lesson In Safety

Nearly 10 people drown in the U.S. each day — 70 percent of them are adults. Of the children who drown, 70 percent of them have an adult nearby. The common denominator here is the swimming proficiency and water safety knowledge of the adult. One hundred percent of the behavior change needed is on the part of the adult. We must message that adults are the "lifeguards" of their children and then we must equip them (the adults) with the skill and knowledge to do the job well.

According to the CDC, 35 to 50 percent of U.S. adults can't swim (over 60 percent for some minority populations). But what does that mean? Why is there no industry standard for swimming proficiency (e.g., 300 yards continuous swim freestyle)? Why aren't we defi ning what it means to be able to swim so people really understand whether or not their skill is sufficient? A lot of people think they can swim, but would never consider themselves capable of achieving a common proficiency standard such as that. Isn't it time to create one? Why not speak a common language that will help people assess their own skill level?

Why are we not advocating for adults (entire families) to learn how to swim? Why are swimming lessons positioned so strongly as only being for children? Being safe in the water is only part swimming skill and mostly sound decision-making.

I learned to swim last year at 40. It was exceptionally child-focused and it's now obvious to me why there are so few new adult swimmers. If we are ever going to create significant and sustainable change to reduce the incidence of drownings and near-drownings in this country, it's time to see this problem for what it really is ... we need to get all of America swimming, not just the kids. Who wins with this strategy? Everyone— fewer drownings, improved health, reduced disparities.

Larissa Rodriguez, MBA

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