OpinionA study by physicians in the UK suggests that while kids are capable of learning proper CPR steps in very early years, they don't have the strength to properly compress the chest until they reach their teens.
In the study, only 19% of 11 and 12-year-olds were able to adequately compress the chest of a mannequin. About 45% of the 13 and over crowd were able to perform proper chest compression, which is comparable to adult studies.
I don't know which news is more discouraging -- that kids may not be able to save adults until they're teenagers (when they might not want to), or that only 45% of adults correctly do CPR.
Obviously, this study somewhat encourages us to move CPR training out of middle schools and into high schools, where kids are able to both learn the skill and do it well. Considering that CPR training is rarely used in real life (luckily) and there is a big drop in retention six months after the class is taught, it makes sense to spend money where it will most likely get the best return on investment.
However, should this dissuade parents from letting kids do CPR training earlier? I don't think so.
Let's face the hard fact: A victim of cardiac arrest is dead -- period. Without intervention, there is zero chance of survival. Just because more than 80% of seventh graders aren't able to push the chest of a mannequin to the recommended depth, it doesn't mean an adrenalin-boosted middle-schooler wouldn't be able to pump hard enough to save a dying adult.
The UK study didn't examine child and infant CPR, which presumably don't require kids to be as strong to do the procedures correctly. More study is needed to answer that question but, to posit an educated guess, I think they could pull it off just fine.
Abella, Benjamin, et al."Quality of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation During In-Hospital Cardiac Arrest." JAMA. 19 Jan 2005
Jones, Ian, et al."At what age can schoolchildren provide effective chest compressions? An observational study from the Heartstart UK schools training programme." BMJ. 9 Jun 2007
Vanderschmidt, H, TK Burnap and JK Thwaites. "Evaluation of a cardiopulmonary resuscitation course for secondary schools retention study." Med Care. Feb 1976