(Reuters) - The number of U.S. children being hospitalized after nearly drowning is half what it was nearly two decades ago, according to a study that suggests public health campaigns about drowning risks may be working.
Researchers, whose work was published in Pediatrics, found that hospitalization rates dropped for both boys and girls, and in all age groups, from babies to teenagers.
The results are also consistent with recent research suggesting that fewer children are dying from drowning now than in the past.
"I think there have been some very good efforts ... to try to educate parents on the importance of helping to prevent drowning at all points in childhood development," said Stephen Bowman, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, who led the study.
Those efforts include encouraging parents to install fences around backyard pools and to make sure children wear life preservers in open water.
Bowman and his colleagues used a national database that included information on eight million people admitted to about 1,000 hospitals annually to estimate the total number of children in the United States hospitalized for near-drowning.
In 1993, they calculated that an estimated 3,623 children and teens aged 19 and under were admitted to the hospital after nearly drowning -- a number that fell to 1,781 in 2008.
That works out to between four and five of every 100,000 U.S. youth being hospitalized annually in the early study years, down to two to three per 100,000 in the most recent years.
The researchers reported that the drop was due largely to a decreasing number of hospitalizations in southern and western states, though more children are still hospitalized for near-drowning in those regions than in the Midwest and Northeast.
Based on their findings, they also estimated that the number of children who died after being hospitalized fell from roughly 359 in 1993 to 207 in 2008.
While the findings can't attribute the decline to any one specific public health intervention, they do suggest that parent education efforts are starting to work, said Gary Smith, head of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
"This trend, this was really remarkable," said Smith, who is also the president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance and was not involved in the study.
But he added that much still needs to be done.
"While this study shows we're making really good progress, especially in the western and southern regions of our country, we have some sobering data still that this remains one of the leading causes of death among children," he added. SOURCE: http://bit.ly/jsoh2P
(Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)