Chicago Parent Survey Highlights Swimming Safety in Lake Michigan

May 26, 2023

Differences in family swimming habits and beach safety features were found in a recent Voices of Child Health in Chicago Parent Panel Survey from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Over 1,000 parents from all 77 community areas in the city reported where they swim in Lake Michigan and what safety equipment they noticed at beaches.

The report found that 61% of parents say they swim at Lake Michigan beaches with their children, while 27% said they do not swim at Lake Michigan and 8% said they do not swim at all. Smaller proportions of parents swim in lake areas other than beaches, such as off a boat (4%), or unsafe areas including the rocks (5%) and piers (3%).

Swimming in areas other than beaches was more common among families with high household income (19%), compared to families with low household income (8%). Last summer, 85% of parents reported spending time at Lake Michigan; 16% of families did so at least once per week, 29% one to three times per month, 40% less than once per month and 15% never at all.

The presence of safety features also varied by parent demographic characteristics. Asian/other-race parents and white parents were more likely to report seeing flags about water conditions at the lakefront beaches than parents of other races/ethnicities (66-65% vs. 53%-44%) and parents with higher household income were more likely to report seeing a life ring or throw bag on the beach (47%) than parents with lower household income (35%).

“Lake Michigan is the most dangerous of the Great Lakes. Winds and structures, like piers and jetties, make the beaches in southern Lake Michigan prone to deadly rip currents. Conditions can change quickly, that’s why it is so important to pay attention to beach flags and swim in designated areas during times that lifeguards are on duty,” said Michelle L. Macy, MD, MS, Scientific Director, Community, Population Health and Outcomes, Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute.

Parents also were asked if their children swam with supervision from an adult or lifeguard. One in three parents say that their children swim without an adult or lifeguard present some of the time or more, which is a risky situation for any swimmer. It is important to note that most Chicago families swim in Lake Michigan during hours when a lifeguard is likely to be on duty and two-thirds of Chicago parents say their children never swim when there is not an adult or a lifeguard present.

There are many things Chicago families can do to ensure water and swimming safety. Enrolling children and adults in swim lessons; paying attention to beach flags, weather and water conditions; and closely supervising children are all important layers of protection to assure safety while swimming at the beach.

“Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury death in children 1 to 4 years old and among teens and young adults. Last summer, Illinois passed important legislation requiring safety equipment, such as life rings and throw bags, to be installed on piers and drop-offs along the Lake Michigan coast. Learning to swim and knowing how to safely respond if you see someone in trouble can save a life,” said Dr. Macy.

Water Safety Resources for Families:

Research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is a nonprofit organization committed to providing access to exceptional care for every child. It is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. Lurie Children’s is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.