-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
TUESDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- Heat-related deaths among
high school and college football players in the United States
nearly tripled between 1994 and 2009, according to a new study.
An average of nearly three players died each year during that
time period -- up from about one death per year during the previous
15 years -- with six deaths occurring in Georgia alone, the most of
The University of Georgia researchers analyzed weather
conditions, along with information on all 58 athletes who died of
hyperthermia (overheating) during football practice. Specifically,
they examined the temperature, humidity and time of day of the
incident, as well as the players' height, weight and position.
The study, published recently in the
International Journal of Biometeorology, found that morning heat indexes were higher from 1994 to 2009 than they were in the preceding 15 years.
"In general, on days the deaths occurred, the temperature was hotter and the air more humid than normal local conditions," senior study author Andrew Grundstein, a climatologist and associate professor of geography at the University of Georgia, said in a university news release.
More than half of the players got sick on days when practice was
held in the morning and ended before noon. Most of the deaths
occurred in August, when many coaches intensified preseason
Researchers used wet bulb globe temperature, developed by the
American College of Sports medicine, which takes into account air
temperature, players' ability to be cooled through evaporation and
the amount of solar radiation absorbed by players' skin. They also
used the U.S. National Weather Service's heat index. The authors
noted limitations to the study, however, such as that neither of
these methods used to measure temperature account for the added
heat caused by football pads and helmets.
"We all want a single magic number to indicate the heat threshold," Grundstein said. "But so many factors contribute to heat stress that it's impossible to draw the line at a single temperature."
The researchers said coaches should take the following steps to
avoid heat illness among players:
The researchers said body-mass index (BMI) -- a measure of body
fat based on height and weight -- also could have played a role in
the increase in player deaths. The study showed football players
have gotten bigger since 1980, which could make them more
susceptible to hyperthermia. Of the players who died, 86 percent
were linemen, who tend to have a higher BMI than other players.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides
more information on how to prevent
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