Swimmingly Bad Lies

swimmingI have remarked before that the stock response to skin cancer – slap on more sun screen – actually causes more skin cancer, not less. A fact which is bad news for the huge industry of producing and selling the stuff, and so rarely reported.

Recently, there has been a spate of drownings in Australia. Predictably, the stock response – take more children to swimming pools and teach them to swim – is equally fallacious. See for example Good swimmers drown more often than non-swimmers: How openwater swimming could feature in beginner swimming Torill Hindmarch and Mats Melbye Norwegian Life Saving Society at http://www.worldconferenceondrowningprevention2011.org:

It is commonly said, “The best insurance against drowning is learning to swim”. But the figures tell us something else. While approximately two-thirds of those who drowned where considered ‘good swimmers’ (2), almost all drowning accidents take place closer than 15 meters from possible rescue and more 50% closer than three meters from possible rescue. Why couldn’t they swim to safety?

One might assume that good swimmers to a greater degree engage in water related activities, equally, the figures say nothing about how many survive due to good aquatic skills. Figures from a Survey made by Norwegian Swimming Federation indicate that only a half of the Norwegian population can be classed as ‘competent’ swimmers. Combining these figures one can conclude that learning to swim in fact doubles the risk of drowning.

Research shows that certain age groups and genders have a higher incidence of drowning. It also shows that although it is no significant difference between the self estimated aquatic skills and the real aquatic skills, in the exposed group there was a low estimation of the risk in specific situations (3).

The reason is not hard to see. Non-swimmers do not go swimming. The better swimmer a person is, the more likely that person is to try to swim across the bay or try something equally risky. And among deaths, other factors are at play. 80% of adult swimming deaths are males. Black Americans are 3 times more likely to drown than white Americans.

I am not against swimming. Decidedly boring after a while, unless one is snorkelling or scuba diving in warm sea water, inho. That, and a quick dip in a pool on a hot day, is great. I think it worth taking the risk that it poses. But I do not like being lied to.

There are huge numbers of people who benefit from this particular lie. Conversely, it is not really in anyone’s interest to say, “Well, actually, you are best off not swimming at all”. So we should not expect any very imminent change of tack.


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