By Jed Livingstone: Vice-President, NAUI Worldwide

We have reviewed the reasons that twelve was established as a minimum age and find that there is no reliable data or information by which to consider lowering it at this time. In the majority of juveniles, significant skeletal growth is ending just prior to age twelve. Recent studies have shown that there is a second phase of brain growth that occurs in ten to twelve year olds. These growth phases could be compromised by hyperbaric exposures and no one promoting lowering the age limit can demonstrate that there is no increased risk to children. Arbitrarily lowering the age limit, without any evidence and no better reason other than "to promote the sport" is in our opinion unconscionable. We do not agree that it is appropriate to certify this population as scuba divers and will not be changing the minimum age prerequisite for NAUI Worldwide scuba training and certification.

The following is an excerpt from a "Medical Answers" column published in Sources: The Journal of Underwater Education in the November/December issue 1991. While it has been almost a decade since the column was published, no new data has developed to alter the opinions expressed in the column or our official position on the question of minimum age, i.e., "The minimum age for each level of training is to be reached by the water phase of the course." For courses involving the breathing of compressed gases the minimum age is twelve. Upon graduation the individual may be registered for a conditional "junior" certification.

MEDICAL ANSWERS, By R. Kelly Hill, Jr., M.D., F.A.C.M., NAUI #9243

"Little kids shouldn't dive. There, I've typed it so that it is very clear. Just like pregnancy, being a human-in-progress is a contraindication to diving. There are two rational reasons based upon diving physiology, and one irrational reason for my position on [youngsters] diving.

Rational Reason #1: The DCS risk for juveniles is unknown, and there are no decompression tables or algorithms developed specifically for them. When experts in diving medicine get together to look at incidence rates, causal factors and risk analysis, there is little consensus - and that is for adults not our children. The historical data collected on the few children who have dived is a very inadequate sample to determine if children have more or less risk than adults. Animal experiments have not been particularly helpful in determining the relative incidence of DCS in this group when compared to adults. Remember that the basic concept behind the development of decompression tables is whether or not the test group got bent using [a particular] schedule. Those groups tend to be relatively small [in number], until recently were exclusively male, and no one in his right mind would include children in a test group...

Rational Reason #2: Juveniles have a unique tissue risk for decompression sickness. Though all of a juvenile's tissues are in transition, one tissue type in particular is at potential risk for DCS: bone. As the skeleton grows , it does so by lengthening bones at their ends, through the growth plates. Just like with other tissues, if something, such as a bubble, damages this tissue or its blood supply, the tissue fails. The growth plate has its own set of on and off-gassing parameters, and they are ones that were not necessarily included in the testing of decompression schedules. If a growth plate dies, that bone does not grow from that end and the bone is permanently distorted. If the distortion is significant, the result may be surgery, disability or both... the risk is real and the incidence unknown.

Irrational Reason #1: Risk/Benefit. Since the data is not clear, why take a risk? Diving is a wonderful experience, but there are lots of wonderful experiences open to kids, like growing up with two legs the same length. The benefits of children diving are not commensurate with the risk.