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Hot weather increases risk of outdoor drowning

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A new study in the journal PLOS ONE, by Dr. Michael Fralick and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre researchers, Dr. Donald Redelmeier and Dr. Christopher Denny, suggests that hot weather rather than cold stormy weather increases the risk of drowning.

They reviewed all unintentional drowning deaths in Ontario from 1999 through 2009, and contrasted the weather on the date of the drowning with the weather at the same location one-week prior. Weather data were obtained from Environment Canada, and demographic data were obtained from the Office of the Chief Coroner.

The analysis observed a total of 1,243 drowning deaths over the 10-year period, equal to about 120 deaths per year for an Ontario population of about 12 million people. Approximately 82 per cent of victims were male, and the average age was 40 years. The majority occurred in outdoor locations, without the use of a personal flotation device, and about one in three individuals had been drinking alcohol. The analysis also showed that daily air temperatures exceeding 30°C were associated with a 69 per cent increase in the risk of drowning.

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Says Fralick, "The higher rates of drowning on hot days could be the result of people spending more time around the water as the temperature rises. Other possibilities could be alcohol consumption, which may increase on hot days. Alcohol negatively affects judgment and swimming ability, making it a risk factor for drowning. Another contributor could be decreased use of a personal flotation device on warm summer days among all age groups."

The authors indicate that these risks could be mitigated by simple measures such as educating the public about the risk of drowning associated with hot weather and providing warnings about responsible alcohol consumption during hot weather days.

In Canada, drowning is the third leading overall cause of unintentional death before the age of 60, averaging about 3 fatalities each week in Ontario.

Fralick states, "Drowning deaths are a devastating event that commonly affect young healthy individuals who might have otherwise lived a long, healthy life. Almost all cases of drowning can be avoided by a small change in behaviour."

The results of the study are published in the August 14, 2013 issue of PLOS ONE. The live article can be found here:

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department, in consultation with Sunnybrook. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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