E. Huggins 3/18/03
(Reuters Health) -
Nearly one in
three young children are left alone in the bathtub by their parents
for some amount of time, putting them at risk for drowning,
according to a report released recently.
The American Academy
of Pediatrics' Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention advises
parents to "never--even for a moment--leave children alone in
bathtubs, spas, or wading pools...or other open standing water."
Yet the new study
findings show that the "Academy says one thing, and parents are
doing another," study author Dr. Harold K. Simon told Reuters
"We need to improve
on this disconnect and just raise public awareness," said Simon, an
associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Emory
University and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, both in Atlanta,
What parents think
is a few seconds away from watching their children can become a few
minutes and then "a tragic situation," Simon added.
In 1999, nearly half
of the 1,345 accidental drownings among Americans younger than 20
were among children five years old and younger, according to the
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Thirty-two
percent of the drownings occurred among toddlers and infants who had
not yet turned two years old.
And almost 60% of
unintentional drownings among children up to one year old occurred
In their study of
259 families, Simon and his team investigated the level of
supervision parents and guardians gave to their children while
They found that 31%
of parents and caregivers left a child alone in the bath, for as
little as a few seconds to as long as five minutes or more.
age two or younger--when drowning risk is especially great--were
left unsupervised at some time. Five of them were unsupervised for
more than two minutes, as were four children age one and younger.
In one case, a
five-month-old child was left alone for more than two minutes as the
caregiver went to get a towel. In another, an eight-month-old was
left unsupervised for more than five minutes as the caregiver cooked
Parents also left
their child unsupervised so they could talk on the telephone, get
diapers or check on their other children, the investigators report
in the March/April 2003 issue of the journal Ambulatory Pediatrics.
In other findings,
although most young children were usually supervised by an adult
during bath time, some families relied on the child's older
siblings. Five families reported that a sibling younger than 10
watched over a younger child in the bathtub--including a
five-year-old who was left responsible for a 22-month-old.
About 8 percent of
study participants said their children bathed alone before the age
Although the study
concentrated on bathtubs as a potential drowning location, children
are also at risk of drowning in high standing buckets and even
toilets, Simon said.
At young ages, he
explained, children tend to be more top-heavy, with large heads, so
"if they tip into (a bucket or other object), it's a situation where
they just can't tip out of it," and can drown in a small amount of
Simon hopes that the
study's findings can help raise awareness that the lack of bathtub
supervision "is a problem," and that healthcare providers can make
people more aware of it.
"Even a short
period of time in a high-risk situation can be devastating."
Ambulatory Pediatrics 2003;3.