Bathing after eating and other causes of drowning


The ban on bathing after eating, for two or three hours, is one of the prohibitions most suffered by children at the seaside. The hypothetical risk of ‘congestion’ and subsequent drowning has forced entire generations to count down on the scorching sand waiting for the fateful plunge. However, the soundness of this precaution is doubted by the scientific community. Nevertheless, drownings are still very common and are the leading cause of death among younger people. Attention in the water is therefore critical, and should be directed to a number of hazards.

Water congestion, the pediatrician’s opinion

The risk of congestion attributed to immersion in water after a meal is described by pediatrician Lucio Piermarini-in an article in ‘Un Pediatra Per Amico’ (Uppa)-as a myth with no scientific basis.

If we go looking in scientific journals, as trivial conformist physicians, we do not even find the equivalent of the term ‘congestion.’ An all-Italian thing in short, kind of like “the neck.” But, you will say, one will have to admit that if one is ‘scoffing’ then one may feel ill. Certainly, but in the first place, the person doing it is almost never a child, and then, when it happens, the discomfort is progressive and gives plenty of time, even for a child, to communicate it and get out of the water‘. (1)

The real risks of drowning from sudden illness exist, but they are others. Alcohol consumption before bathing, first of all. And it is a problem that does not affect children, teenagers if anything.

The most well-known danger – also to sports swimmers and divers, who are wont to take a cold shower before starting competition — is instead the abrupt impact of cold water on the face. ‘In such cases, a violent reflex nerve reaction is triggered that slows the heart rate and lowers the blood pressure so that if the whole thing lasts more than a few seconds, the brain goes into lockdown and you drown even in a few inches of water‘, the pediatrician explains.

Drowning, leading cause of child death

Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental deaths and the leading cause of child deaths worldwide. With an overall occurrence of about 360,000 deaths each year, 7 percent of all injury-related deaths (2015 data). Those at greatest risk are children with the highest rates of drowning at ages 1-4 years, followed by the 5-9 year old age group. Children most at risk are those who live near unprotected water sources-such as ditches, ponds, irrigation canals or swimming pools-as well as those who are left without adult supervision (WHO data). (2)

The male gender is generally at greater risk of drowning. Because of the higher aptitude-detected by statistics-for riskier behaviors, such as swimming alone or consuming alcohol before swimming. This is followed by people with recurrent access to water. We refer to fishermen, for example, but also to users of small boats inLow-Middle Income Countries (LMICs). As well as to daily commuters on water routes. Not to mention the tragedies of migrants, who are often forced to deal with deep waters and currents in the absence of precautions.

Flood disasters are another recurring lethal circumstance. Drowning accounts for 75% of deaths in flood disasters. Which recur with increasing frequency and cause more deaths in low- and middle-income countries. Precisely those where more than 90 percent of drownings are concentrated in the absence of effective precautionary and evacuation measures.

The World Health Organization(WHO or WHO) published in 2014 the study ‘
Global Report on Drowning
‘. In May 2017, he then released the guidelines ‘
Preventing drowning: an implementation guide
‘, which the governments of its 194 member states should implement to protect populations from drowning risks.


(2) V. Drowning, World Health Organization at

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".