One of the perks of being married to someone who was trained in medicine is that you get to hear constantly about the health risks of various activities, including bad eating, drinking, and gun ownership. Recently, V. and I have been gently debating the risks of having a pool in the backyard of our future home. Despite the fact that residents of SE Queensland are a short drive from the ocean, and they repeatedly face water restrictions, they just love their backyard pools (this is easily confirmed when you fly over Brisbane). V., however, feels very strongly that we should never have a pool...at least until Will is an adult. Her certainty on this matter reminds me of a passage in Levitt's and Dubner's Freakonomics about the decision to send one's child to a house with guns or one with pools:
Consider the parents of an eight-year-old girl named, say, Molly. Her two best friends, Amy and Imani, each live nearby. Molly's parents know that Amy's parents keep a gun in their house, so they have forbidden Molly to play there. Instead, Molly spends a lot of time at Imani's house, which has a swimming pool in the backyard. Molly's parents feel good about having made such a smart choice to protect their daughter.
But according to the data, their choice isn't smart at all. In a given year, there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States. (In a country with 6 million pools, this means that roughly 550 children under the age of ten drown each year.) Meanwhile, there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million-plus guns. (In a country with an estimated 200 million guns, this means that roughly 175 children under ten die each year from guns.) The likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million-plus) isn't even close: Molly is roughly 100 times more likely to die in a swimming accident at Imani's house than in gunplay at Amy's.
To further support my wife's brilliance, here are few more U.S. statistics that I found on a pool alarm website:
* Six people drown in U.S. pools every day. Many of these pools are public facilities staffed with certified professional lifeguards. Centers for Disease ControlNeedless to say, I'm with V. on this one.
* Drowning is the 4th leading cause of accidental death in the United States, claiming 4,000 lives annually. Approximately one-third are children under the age of 14. American Institute for Preventive Medicine
* Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death among children under the age of 15. National Center for Health Statistics
* A child can drown in the time it takes to answer a phone. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
* 19% of drowning deaths involving children occur in public pools with certified lifeguards present. Drowning Prevention Foundation
* A swimming pool is 14 times more likely than a motor vehicle to be involved in the death of a child age 4 and under. Orange County California Fire Authority
* Children under five and adolescents between the ages of 15-24 have the highest drowning rates. American Academy of Pediatrics
* For every child who drowns, four are hospitalized for near drowning. American Academy of Pediatrics
* An estimated 5,000 children ages 14 and under are hospitalized due to near-drownings each year; 15 percent die in the hospital and as many as 20 percent suffer severe, permanent neurological disability. Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention
* Of all preschoolers who drown, 70 percent are in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning and 75 percent are missing from sight for five minutes or less. Orange County, CA, Fire Authority
* In 10 states - Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington - drowning surpasses all other causes of death to children age 14 and under. Orange County, CA, Fire Authority