Exploring a Hidden Epidemic: Drowning Among Adults Aged 65 Years and OldeR
July 12, 2021 – A 2021 study analyzing 10 years of unintentional fatal drowning data from Australia, Canada and New Zealand indicates that the proportion of drowning deaths that occurred among older adults increased from 15% to 24% over the period (2005–2014).
Using population projections, the authors estimate that by the year 2050, between 209 and 430 older adults (65+) will die from drowning in Canada each year, compared to an average of 81 per year during the study period. Learn more.
New Canadians encouraged to STARTboating this summer
Lifesaving Society launches multi-language, online boating safety program
Toronto, ON – July 20, 2017 The Lifesaving Society, Canada’s leading organization responsible for drowning prevention, has launched an online boating safety program targeted to new boaters, particularly new Canadians who may be experiencing recreational boating for the first time. STARTboating is a comprehensive program designed to teach basic boating and water safety skills. The program will launch today in English, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi and Tagalog.
STARTboating consists of a series of online, interactive videos, which guide the user through the basic skills needed to safely enjoy a day on the water. While suitable for all boaters, the program was developed with Canada’s growing immigrant population, especially newcomer families, in mind.
Press release: English / French / Simplified Chinese / Traditional Chinese / Hindi / Tagalog
Poster: STARTboating poster / French
2017 Boating Safety Tips: English / French / Simplified Chinese / Traditional Chinese / Hindi
Study reveals new Canadian ‘tweens’ at higher risk for drowning
Toronto, ON – June 28, 2016 English / Français – A new study commissioned by the Lifesaving Society, Canada’s leading organization responsible for drowning prevention, has found tweens (aged 11-14) who are new to Canada are five times more likely to be unable to swim than their Canadian born classmates. The study also found that despite this, 93% of new Canadian tweens say they participate in activities in, on or around water.
The new study, “The Influence of Ethnicity on Tweens Swimming & Water Safety in Canada” was conducted to better understand the attitudes and behaviours of Canadian tweens around swimming and water safety, both new Canadians and those born in Canada. The study builds on important research commissioned by the Society in 2010, which found that new Canadian adults were four times more likely to be unable to swim than those than those born in Canada.
Results suggest that water safety risk is higher for new Canadian tweens than those born in Canada; and even more so for tweens who have been here for less than five years, who are up to seven times more likely to be unable to swim than those born in Canada.
“The results of the study confirmed observations from our 2010 research, that families coming to Canada, often have different knowledge or experiences around issues of water safety and the importance of learning to swim,” says Barbara Byers, Public Education Director for the Lifesaving Society. “We undertook this research to focus specifically on tweens, to gain insight into the best ways to communicate to them about water safety and to motivate them to learn to swim.”
“This age group is important,” adds Byers. “Despite the desire for greater independence, parents and schools still have a level of influence on their daily activities. Tweens and teens who continue into young adulthood without learning to swim are moving into a very high risk category. The 2016 Canadian Drowning Report supports this. It indicates that 20-24 year-olds had one of the highest drowning rates. Learning even basic survival swimming skills at this age will provide protection into adulthood.”
Swimming is the most popular water-related activity among tweens despite nearly one in five new Canadian tweens reporting they are unable to swim
- 68% of new Canadian tweens identified swimming as an activity they participate in vs. 90% of tweens born in Canada; however, nearly one in five (17%) of new Canadian tweens report they are unable to swim vs. 3% of those born in Canada.
- Another one in three (34%) say they can only swim a little vs. 10% of those born in Canada.
- Many new Canadian tweens who can swim aren’t confident about their abilities. One quarter of new Canadian tweens who say they can swim also say they would not be able to meet the Swim to Survive standard of “jumping into deep water at a pool, supporting themselves on the surface for 1 minute and then swimming 2 lengths of a community pool”.
- Many new Canadian tweens also worry they might drown or get injured while swimming (49% of new Canadians vs. 21% of those born in Canada).
Learning to swim as part of the Canadian experience
The research is timely as Canada welcomes increasing numbers of immigrants from countries around the world. Close to 30,000 Syrian refugees will be celebrating their first Canada Day on July 1. In fact, Statistics Canada projects that the new Canadian population will continue to rise, reaching between 25% and 28% in 2031. That means at least one in four people living in Canada could be foreign born.
Many new Canadians come from countries where learning to swim and water safety are not part of their experience. When they come to Canada, a country with an abundance of fresh water and opportunity for water-based activities, they often want to embrace the quintessential experience of swimming. The research shows that the majority (73%) of new Canadian tweens who can swim, learned in Canada.
“We want to encourage families who are new to Canada to make learning to swim a part of their Canadian experience,” says Byers. The research shows that there are some challenges for new Canadian tweens and their families to learn to swim – family, cultural and religious, as well as the time constraints and struggles of day-to-day life. The research also gives us valuable insights into how we can evolve and promote programs like Swim to Survive to help overcome some of these challenges.”
Swimming to Survive
The Lifesaving Society’s Swim to Survive program is a school-based program for Grade 3 students, which teaches three basic skills in sequence: roll into deep water; tread water for one minute; and swim 50 metres. While not a replacement for standard swimming lessons, the program is an important first step to being safe around water, and could make the difference between life and death when immersion in water is sudden and unexpected.
Swim to Survive+ which targets the tween demographic (Grade 7 students) is also offered in partnership with schools, and teaches the basic swimming skills needed to survive a fall into deep water and how to safely assist a friend. The program is offered during school time and allows students to participate wearing regular ‘street’ clothing.
Both Swim to Survive and Swim to Survive+ were developed with support from founding sponsor the Stephanie Gaetz KEEPSAFE Foundation. Since 2005, funding from the Ontario Government - Ministry of Education has provided more than 755,000 Grade 3 students with the opportunity to learn the Swim to Survive skills. Since 2013, more than 40,000 Grade 7 students have participated in the Swim to Survive+ program. Swim to Survive+ is currently funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and PPL Aquatic Fitness & Spa Group.
In response to community need, the Lifesaving Society has recently introduced Family Swim to Survive. This new program enables participants to learn the Swim to Survive skills together as a family. A number of municipalities in Ontario are offering the new program.
The learnings from this research study, funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation will help the Society to continue to improve programs and communications to help keep all Canadians water safe.
About the Study
The study “The Influence of Ethnicity on Tweens Swimming & Water Safety in Canada” was commissioned by the Lifesaving Society to better understand the attitudes and behaviours of Canadian tweens around swimming and water safety, including both new Canadians and those born in Canada. The study focused on a population of respondents born in Canada and respondents from the Chinese, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern and Muslim communities who were not born in Canada.
Research objectives included:
- Measuring the extent of new Canadian and born-in-Canada tween participation in water-related recreational activities and understanding their swimming abilities and behaviours
- Understanding the attitudes of new Canadian and born-in-Canada tweens toward swimming, water safety, independence and risk taking
- Determining the key barriers to new Canadian and born-in-Canada tweens learning to swim and taking swimming lessons
- Determining the key motivators to learn to swim, and what communications messages could increase all tweens’ interest in improving their water survival skills via Swim to Survive+
The data were collected between March 29th 2016 and April 18th 2016. The total sample was 657 Canadian residents between the ages of 11 and 14. Of the total respondents, 297 were born in Canada and 360 were not born in Canada. They are referred to as ‘new Canadian tweens’ throughout the news release. (Results of a probability study with a sample size of 297 are considered accurate within +/- 5.69 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Results of a probability study with a sample size of 360 are considered accurate within +/- 5.17 percentage points, 19 times out of 20).
The study was conducted on behalf of the Lifesaving Society by Gadd Research and McCullough Associates. Gadd Research is a Toronto-based market research company established in 1989. They specialize in qualitative and quantitative market research with a focus on in-depth insight into consumer attitudes and behaviours.
About the Swim to Survive programs
Swim to Survive teaches Grade 3 children three basic skills in sequence: roll into deep water; tread water for one minute; and swim 50 metres (statistics show that most people who drown are less than 15 metres from shore or safety). Swim to Survive+ builds on the skills taught in Swim to Survive and is geared towards presenting real-life situations for children in Grade 7.
Participants learn to complete the skills with their clothes on and how to safely help a friend. Family Swim to Survive enables families to learn the Swim to Survive skills together. Those interested are encouraged to contact their local pool or visit www.lifesavingsociety.com for more information about Family Swim to Survive.
WHO report: drowning among top causes of death for children worldwide.
Programs like Lifesaving Society's Swim to Survive could have immunization-like benefit.
Toronto, ON - June 4, 2015 (Version Française / Chinese) - The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its first-ever global report dedicated exclusively to drowning - Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer. The report covers drowning in all countries of the world, across all ages. Among the findings: drowning is one of the ten leading causes of death for children and young people in every region.
In Canada, the Lifesaving Society - the lead organization responsible for drowning prevention - notes that it's the second leading cause of preventable death for children under the age of 10.
Swimming lessons are like an immunization against drowning
Teaching school-age children basic swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills is one of the Ten Actions to Prevent Drowning specifically identified by the WHO report.
"Teaching young children basic survival swimming skills can have a life-long immunization effect against drowning," says Dr. Stephen Beerman, a Canadian doctor and researcher who contributed to the report. "The Lifesaving Society's Swim to Survive program is an excellent example of how an organized, community-based approach can have an impact on generations of children. The program is a great model for other countries in the world."
In 2005, the Lifesaving Society developed Swim to Survive, a school-based program that teaches grade three students three critical skills needed to survive an unexpected fall into water.
The program resulted from the Lifesaving Society's vision that every child in Canada should learn basic survival swimming skills. In a country blessed with so much water, swimming skills are essential.
97% of Canadians agree that swimming is a life skill every child should learn
"Spending time in and around water is a fact of life in Canada, and every child deserves the chance to learn basic swimming skills," says Barbara Byers, Public Education Director of the Lifesaving Society. "Acquiring these basic skills is a fundamental requirement in any meaningful attempt to eliminate drowning in Canada. Our goal is to reach every grade three student and arm them with the skills to help keep themselves safe. We are proud of the success of the Swim to Survive program, we are working towards expanding the program across Canada."
A recent Angus Reid Forum survey conducted for the Society found that 97% of Canadians agree swimming is a life skill that every child should learn, and 88% agreed that all children should receive swimming instruction as part of a school safety program.
Drowning is preventable
Globally, an estimated 372,000 people drown each year in what the WHO describes as a serious but neglected public health threat. While the impact from drowning is significant compared to other public health challenges, the report notes there are no broad, organized global strategies for prevention.
The WHO report calls for both global and local communities to work together to introduce strategies aimed at promoting water safety and drowning prevention. Its Ten Actions to Prevent Drowning include community-based actions, areas for policy and legislation, and research priorities.
The Lifesaving Society actively supports the strategies recommended in the WHO report including data collection and research; promoting prevention strategies such as four-sided fencing; and drowning prevention education programs that teach swimming skills to children.
Swim to Survive celebrates 10 years
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Swim to Survive program, which teaches three basic skills in sequence: roll into deep water, tread water for 1 minute, and swim 50 metres.
Funding for the development of the program was made possible by a grant from the Stephanie Gaetz Keepsafe Foundation. In its inaugural year, with funding from the York regional government, approximately 3,000 grade 3 students from across Ontario's York region participated in the pilot program.
In 2006, the Ontario Ministry of Education gave the Lifesaving Society close to $1 million dollars to fund a province-wide school grant program. The Ministry has continued to support the program each year since then. Currently, the program is funded by the Ministry and many other government and community partners.
This funding has enabled almost 670,000 children from 50 school boards, across 93 municipalities in Ontario to participate in the Swim to Survive program. The program continues to grow and is now available in all provinces across Canada.
About the Lifesaving Society
The Lifesaving Society is a full-service provider of programs, products and services designed to prevent drowning. We save lives and prevent water-related injury through our training programs, Water Smart® public education, drowning prevention research, aquatic safety management and lifesaving sport. Each year, more than 1,000,000 Canadians participate in the Society's swimming, lifesaving, lifeguarding and leadership programs.
About the Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer
The Global report on drowning is the first World Health Organization report dedicated exclusively to drowning - a highly preventable public health challenge that has never been targeted by a global strategic prevention effort. This report aims to change this. It sets out current knowledge about drowning and drowning prevention, and calls for a substantial scaling up of comprehensive efforts and resources to reduce what is an intolerable death toll, particularly among children and adolescents. For more information download the report.
Who's ON Guard?
The Lifesaving Society wants parents and caregivers of young children to ask who's "on guard?" around water this summer
Toronto, ON - June 25, 2014 (Version Française / Chinese) - This summer, the Lifesaving Society is helping to remind parents and caregivers of young children about the importance of water safety by introducing the new ON GUARD card, which identifies who is "on duty" when children are near or in the water. The card is meant to remove any doubt about who is responsible for minding the children, with a goal of reducing accidents or death by drowning.
Drowning is the second leading cause of preventable death for children under 10, and children under five are particularly at risk. The severity of the problem was highlighted in a report prepared by the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, which identified 13 drowning deaths of children under the age of five during the summer of 2010.1
"Year after year we see tragic cases of drowning involving toddlers and young children," said Dr. Dirk Huyer, Chief Coroner for Ontario. "In our 2010 report, we made preventative recommendations regarding supervision, wearing approved personal floatation devices and teaching swimming at the earliest age possible."
Public education campaigns targeting parents and/or caregivers of infants, toddlers and school age children are critical. Prevention initiatives, like the ON GUARD card, stress the need for direct and continuous supervision any time a child is in or near water.
Most people believe that they will be able to recognize a drowning child because they will cry for help or splash and wave their arms. In fact, a child in distress is more likely to slip quietly under the water, unable to call or reach out for help. Drowning can happen quickly and quietly and go unnoticed even when people are nearby.
The ON GUARD card
The ON GUARD card is designed to help ensure that parents and caregivers are especially vigilant while supervising young children and non-swimmers in or around water.
The plastic card is worn on a lanyard around the neck and provides very specific tips to help parents and caregivers understand their role and supervise as effectively as possible.
Those who wear the card are responsible for committing 100% of their attention to their role as supervisor and for finding another adult to relieve them if they need to turn their attention away for any reason.
The card includes the pledge: "People ON GUARD pledge to maintain constant and vigilant supervision until relieved of duty".
Across Canada, 61% of victims under the age of five drowned while alone near water and 53% drowned while supervision was distracted.2
"Young children and toddlers have a natural curiosity and an almost magnetic attraction to the water," said Barbara Byers, Public Education Director for the Lifesaving Society. "They are conditioned to think of water as a place for fun - like playing in the bath tub or splashing in a pool - and this can give them a false sense of security. Parents and caregivers must pay close attention when children are in or near any kind of water. We developed the ON GUARD card to help make it crystal clear which parent or caregiver is responsible for supervising and to provide tips to make sure that they are supervising effectively."
In fact, pediatric experts support the idea that young children are impulsive around water and that their young brains are not capable of recognizing risk.
"Young children, especially under the age of five can be very impulsive, especially when excited" says Dr. Jean Clinton, an Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neuroscience at McMaster University, division of Child Psychiatry. "Their focus is on what appeals to them in their immediate situation. They don't have all the thinking skills developed yet to understand potential danger or the consequences of their actions. They can recite the rules for safety but when they are excited they may not truly retain water safety skills and know when to apply them. As parents and caregivers, it's IMPERATIVE that we recognize these limitations and protect them."
Clinton adds, "The ON GUARD card is an important tool because it is a tangible reminder that really reinforces what our role is in that moment and ongoing as parents and caregivers. We are ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of those in our care."
Individuals or organizations can purchase the ON GUARD water safety card online at www.lifesavingsociety.com or by calling the Lifesaving Society directly at 416-490-8844. The card costs $7.50 each or $125 for 25 cards.
1. Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario. Drowning Review. A Review of All Accidental Drowning Deaths in Ontario From May 1st to June 2011.
2. Canadian Drowning Report. 2013 Edition. Prepared for the Lifesaving Society by the Drowning Prevention Research Centre Canada.
GROWING BODY OF RESEARCH EXPLAINS WHY TEENS MAY BE AT INCREASED RISK OF DROWNING
Based on New Poll Findings Lifesaving Society Cautions Parents and Offers Training with Swim to Survive+™
Toronto, ON - June 24, 2013 (Version Française) (Chinese) - It's not uncommon for parents to be perplexed at times about their teen's behaviour, and a growing body of research on the teen brain is helping experts understand that the physiology of the teen brain actually leads them to participate in thrill-seeking activities and risky behaviour.
The Lifesaving Society is paying special attention to this area of study as it expands the Swim to Survive+™ program. This research reinforces the need to ensure that teens have swimming survival skills and knowledge to keep themselves and their friends safe when their brain physiology puts them at risk around water. The expansion of the Swim to Survive+™ program is made possible with funding from TransCanada Corporation's Safe Communities Initiative and from PPL Aquatic, Fitness & Spa Group.
"This area of research is extremely important as we constantly look for ways to reduce the risk of drowning, especially among those at highest risk," said Barbara Byers, Public Education Director for the Lifesaving Society. "The risk-taking 18-to 24-year-olds continue to have the highest water-related death rate of any age group in Canada at 2.2. per 100,000. The good news is we can do something about it. Swim to Survive+™ aims to arm pre-teens with swimming survival skills that will keep them safe as teens and into early adulthood."
"We know that as our children enter adolescence, they gain increased freedom and independence, spending more time with friends and making decisions in unsupervised settings," says Dr. Jean Clinton, an Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neuroscience at McMaster University, division of Child Psychiatry. "The teenage brain is under construction," says Dr. Clinton. "The thrill seeking, pleasure seeking part of their brain is developing at a faster rate than the judgment and impulse inhibition skills that adults have."
New Research Findings: Parents Weigh In On Water Safety And Their Teens
A recent Angus Reid Public Opinion Poll commissioned by the Lifesaving Society, revealed the following about Canadian parents of teens:
- 97% are confident about their teens' ability to stay safe around water, however 47% have either never taken swimming lessons or took swimming lessons more than five years ago
- Less than half (46%) say they worry very little or not at all about their teens' safety around water, despite the fact that one in five (19%) say their teens will participate in water activities unsupervised this summer, and nearly half (48%) say their teens will participate in both supervised and unsupervised water activities this summer
- 28% of parents believe their teen would jump in to save a friend if they unexpectedly fell into a swimming pool (20% if it was a lake)
Dr. Clinton says that these stats are particularly concerning because the teenage brain is still developing. "Teens have to take risks - it's part of their development," says Dr. Clinton. "But we want them to take safer risks. And programs like Swim to Survive+™ will arm them with the necessary skills they need to take safer risks when they are with their friends."
"Parents know that their kids are going to be around water this summer," says Byers. "And, while they may feel confident that their teens will be safe, the fact is that many teens have not had the proper training to be safe and many of them would impulsively jump in to save a friend. With the Swim to Survive+™ program, the Lifesaving Society aims to equip teenagers with practical life saving skills that will prepare them for their increased independence and freedom, and hopefully reduce the incidents of drowning long term."
"Thanks to the generous support of PPL Aquatic, Fitness & Spa Group, TransCanada
Corporation and our founding sponsor the Stephanie Gaetz Keepsafe Foundation, we are now able to expand our Swim to Survive+™ program to reach more Grade 7 students during the 2013/14 school year at this critical stage of their development," says Byers. "By targeting this age, we hope to equip them with the practical water safety skills they need to keep themselves and their friends safe well into adulthood."
The final statistics on fatal drownings for 2011 to 2012 are not yet available from provincial and territorial chief coroners and medical examiners; however, interim data collected by the Lifesaving Society using media and Internet reports indicates that drownings in Canada remain steady.
About the 'Parents of Teens' Poll
From May 28th to May 30th 2013 an online survey was conducted among 1,011 randomly selected Canadian adults who have at least one child between the ages of 13 and 17 and are Angus Reid Forum panelists. The margin of error-which measures sampling variability-is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada who have at least one child between the ages of 13 and 17. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.