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A health warning as high school football practice begins

It seems like every year around this time a report emerges of a high school athlete who died while practicing football in extreme heat. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a study reminding adults that football players, especially the big guys, are at much higher risk of heat-related illness than athletes in other sports.

The report, published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found more than 9,000 heat-related illnesses occur among high school athletes each year, nationwide. That, however, is likely an underestimate because the survey only recorded incidents that resulted in more than one day of illness, and only nine high school sports were assessed.

The study showed that football players suffer heat-related illnesses at 10 times the rate of athletes in other high school sports. Almost two-thirds of the incidents occurred in August. Finally, almost 65% of the football players experiencing a heat illness -- defined as dehydration or health exhaustion or heat stroke -- were either overweight or obese. Obesity is risk factor for heat illness because fat decreases heat loss. Almost half of high school football players are overweight or obese, according to a previous study.

There are many science-based recommendations to help coaches and adults assisting at practices and games ensure their athletes’ safety. For example, practices should be implemented during the summer using a 14-day acclimitization period. Fluid replacement formulas should be strictly followed, including guidelines to prevent athletes from losing no more than 2% of their body weight per day. This means consuming about 6.5 ounces to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.

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Adults monitoring practices, as well as parents, should be familiar with the symptoms of heat illness, and schools should have a protocol for dealing with a heat illness, the authors of the paper stated. More information is available from the National Athletic Trainers’ Assn.

Since 1995, 31 U.S. high school football players have died from heat stroke. Given what’s now known about the illness and how to prevent it, such incidents should become increasingly rare.

-- Shari Roan / Los Angeles Times

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