News Release

Racial and ethnic disparities in swimming skills found across generations

Culturally tailored intergenerational swimming programs could help eliminate racial disparities in drowning

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

A parent survey from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago published in the journal Pediatrics found intergenerational trends in swimming skills, with stark racial and ethnic differences.

Comfort with their own swimming skills was reported by fewer parents who identified as Latine (less than 25 percent) and Black (28 percent), compared to White parents (56 percent). Similarly, their children’s swimming competence was affirmed by less than 33 percent of Black parents and less than 40 percent of Latine parents, compared to nearly 60 percent of White parents.

The survey also revealed that over 26 percent of Black parents and over 32 percent of Latine parents reported that they never learned to swim, compared to less than 4 percent of White parents. Likewise, fewer Black and Latine children had swimming lessons, compared to White children (46 percent, 47 percent and 72 percent, respectively).

“Our results underscore that racial and ethnic gaps in swimming competence run in families, and that children are less likely to swim when their parents can’t swim,” said senior author Michelle Macy, MD, MS, Emergency Medicine physician at Lurie Children’s and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “To improve swimming abilities in Black and Latine communities, we need to address swim comfort and skills for both parents and their children. Expanding access to pools and affordable, culturally tailored water safety programs are critically important strategies to help eliminate racial disparities in child drownings.”

In swimming pools, Black children ages 10-14 years drown at rates over 7 times higher than White children, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The survey used the Voices of Child Health in Chicago Parent Panel to ascertain parent and child experiences with swim lessons and swimming skills. Dr. Macy and colleagues analyzed responses from 1,283 parents of 2,148 children aged 4 years and older. Participants represented the racial and ethnic diversity of Chicago.

Research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Emergency medicine-focused research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Grainger Research Program in Pediatric Emergency Medicine.

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