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Urban minority youth swimming (in)ability in the United States and associated demographic characteristics: toward a drowning prevention plan


Objective: To examine swimming ability and variables associated with swimming for US inner-city, minority children. Empirical research on minority children’s swimming ability is non-existent, and drowning rates for this population are high.

Design: Cross-sectional survey research. Descriptive statistics were produced. Multiple regression was applied using significant demographic variables by swimming ability.

Setting: Six US cities were chosen (Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; Miami, Florida; Oakland, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) facilities were used to solicit subjects.

Subjects: A large sample (n = 1680) was gathered, which targeted poor, minority children. Parents of children aged 4–11 years and adolescents (12–17 years) completed surveys that research team members or trained YMCA staff supervised during non-swimming YMCA programmes.

Results: African–American respondents reported a 57.5% “at risk” (unable to swim or uncomfortable in deep end of pool) swimming ability. Hispanic/Latino children confirmed a 56.2% “at risk” level as compared with 30.9% for white subjects. Age, sex, child’s lunch programme, parental education and race variables were all significantly (p<0.05) related to swimming ability. Regression analysis revealed that all demographic variables fell into a significant model (p<0.001) as predictor variables.

Conclusions: Poor minority children, specifically African–American and Hispanic/Latino, are at a significant disadvantage concerning swimming ability. Female subjects were notably more “at risk” regarding their swimming ability than male subjects. Age, race and socioeconomic factors (lunch programme and parental education) were significantly associated with children who have low swimming ability.

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