Background: Drowning remains the third leading cause of unintentional injury death for adolescents in the United States. Aims: This study described adolescent swimming lessons, behaviors (life jacket wear while boating) and comfort (swimming in deep water) and their association with protective and risk factors and risk-taking behaviors reported by Washington State students in Grades 8, 10, 12, primarily comprised of youth ages 13 to 18 years. Methods: This study used the 2014 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey (HYS), a publicly available dataset. Results: Most students reported having had swimming lessons, using life jackets, and comfort in deep water. Differences reflected racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities: being White or Caucasian, speaking English at home and higher maternal education. Lowest rates of comfort in deep water were among Hispanics or Latino/Latinas followed by Blacks or African Americans. Greater life jacket wear while boating was reported by females, those in lower grades and negatively associated with alcohol consumption, sexual activity and texting while driving. Having had swimming lessons was associated with fewer risk-taking behaviors. Conclusions: The HYS was useful to benchmark and identify factors associated with drowning risk among adolescents. It suggests a need to reframe approaches to promote water safety to adolescents and their families. Multivariate analysis of this data could identify the key determinants amongst the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities noted and provide stronger estimation of risk-taking and protective behaviors.
Keywords: adolescent; drowning; injury prevention; life jacket; protective factors; risk behaviors; swimming ability; swimming lessons; water safety.