UW News

June 15, 1999

Study Shows Significant Decrease in Drowning in King County

Over the past 21 years drowning in King County has decreased by 59 percent, according to a University of Washington study published in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study investigated the trends in drowning that were attributable to the use of alcohol and the role that medical treatment played after a drowning incident.

During the study period of January 1, 1975 to December 31, 1995, there were 539 deaths from drowning. The incidence of death attributable to alcohol decreased by 81 percent for persons 15 years or older. The researchers found that about half the decrease in drowning was due to a decrease in the use of alcohol around water.

There was no evidence that advances in medical treatment prevented any deaths due to drowning. Most deaths occurred before victims could receive any help from a hospital or ambulance.

“There is strong evidence that people are using less alcohol in and around water,” said Dr. Peter Cummings, UW associate professor of epidemiology, a researcher at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and co-author of the study. “We had 28 fewer deaths from drowning in 1995 than we would have expected had rates been unchanged from 1975.”

The study found that drowning in open water decreased by 65 percent, swimming pool drowning decreased by 48 percent, and bath-tub drowning decreased 9 percent.

“Clearly the key is to prevent the drowning or near-drowning episode from happening in the first place,” said Cummings. “And in this study we found evidence that people are consuming less alcohol around water.”