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Urban minority youth swimming (in)ability in the United States and associated demographic characteristics: toward a drowning prevention plan
  1. C C Irwin,
  2. R L Irwin,
  3. T D Ryan,
  4. J Drayer
  1. Department of Health and Human Services, University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee, USA
  1. Dr C C Irwin, 214 Fieldhouse, Department of Health and Human Services, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152, USA; cirwin{at}


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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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Funding: USA Swimming, National Governing Body (NGB) for swimming in the United States, funded this research with two main questions in mind: Why do children of colour drown at such high rates? Why are there racial disparities with swimming participation, competitive and/or recreational? Results from this research will be used by USA Swimming to guide nationwide initiatives to encourage more marginalised children to swim, and, hopefully, to diminish drowning rates for these populations.

  • Contributorship: All authors listed shared in the work of the actual research: survey design, data collection, data entry, statistical analysis and reporting of the data in the initial report to USA Swimming. The majority of this article was written by CCI, with the order of authors listed corresponding to actual time spent on contributing to article content.