Supplement Feature - February 2013
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Calm Water

Trends in Aquatic Health & Safety

By Wynn St. Clair

Fear of the Water

Unified codes alone, however, won't be enough to convince some people that aquatic centers are safe, healthy places for recreation. In fact, getting a large percentage of the public into the water may prove difficult, as about half of Americans have a fear of swimming pools, studies show.

That statistic alone should leave aquatic managers feeling as if a cold bucket of water has been thrown upon them.

If that many people are frightened by pools, it means nearly 100 million Americans cannot enjoy the benefits of aquatic exercise and—far worse—pose a greater drowning risk.

Roughly 17 percent of American adults swim at least six times per year, studies show. But even more adults—a jaw-dropping 39 percent—described themselves as being afraid to put their heads under water, while 46 percent claim to be scared of deep water.

The CDC reports that overall, 37 percent of Americans are unable to swim. Those numbers are even larger among minority populations, where 62 percent of African-Americans and 47 percent of Hispanics don't know how.

There are myriad reasons why people can't—or, in some cases, won't—swim. Many say they don't have access to pools, while others have had negative experiences. Some admit they're too embarrassed to wear a swimsuit, and others cite racial or ethnic factors such as hair care and other norms.

This insight, coupled with the country's staggering number of non-swimmers, should serve as both an inspiration and a challenge to the aquatic industry. With an estimated 5,000 instructors in the United States today, that means each instructor has a pool of roughly 10,400 potential patrons he or she could be teaching.

To address the issue, the NSPF has launched the "Step into Swim" campaign, which aims to create 1 million new swimmers within the next 10 years. The organization recently announced plans to direct $40,000 to four nonprofit agencies—American Red Cross, JCC Association, U.S. Swim School Association and 21st Century Swimming Lessons—to teach children and adults the "lifelong, lifesaving" activity of swimming.

"The idea is to empower organizations that are already doing a great job and help them make their programs even better," Lachocki said.

Creating more swimmers prevents drowning, improves people's health by opening a wide spectrum of aquatic activities, and creates economic growth for the health and family-focused pool, spa and aquatics industry, Lachocki said.

One of the initiative's main goals is to reduce the risk of drowning in the United States, where an estimated 700 people drown in pools each year, according to CDC studies. Although drowning rates have dropped during the past 15 years, drowning remains the second leading cause of unintentional injury and death in children 1 to 19 years old. African-American children are six times more likely to drown in a swimming pool than their peers, according to CDC statistics.