It is in the news every year from August through about October. The increase in football hat related death, particularly in High School, is hitting record numbers of young athletes. And it is sad as it is totally preventable.
According to a new study out of the University of Georgia Deaths directly attributed to heat increased three-fold between 1994 and 2009, according to the study.
Researchers studied the trend by building a detailed database over a 30 year period including the temperature, humidity and time of day, along with the height, weight and position of each of the 58 players who died of hyperthermia during the study period.
The results indicated that 86% of the players that died were linemen. A sirens cry for coaches and trainers to change the way we handle the training regimen of the big boys.
The 300% increase in the last decade has some speculating that weather patterns have changed and that the increase in humid days is to blame. Others see the correlation between football heat related deaths and an earlier start to the school year.
Kids are less active in today’s culture and when Summer work outs begin, especially two-a-days, it is often too hot to be out there. Moving practices into the early AM hours to beat the heat has helped some but many experts point to the facts that heat is only part of the issues. Humidity as we know plays an even bigger role and is often at a high point in the morning.
The study by the staff at UGA also documented the meteoric rise in size of our High School athletes. We know that mass can lead to problems during these period of high exertion as cooling the body and protecting it from hyperthermia takes longer and is just more difficult.
Georgia in fact lead the country in heat related deaths with 6 so the UGA researchers seem extra motivated to get to the bottom of what can be done and are working very hard to do just that.
The study found interestingly that the morning heat index was much higher in the last 15 years of the study then it was during the first 15 years and we know the two are correlated.
“In general, on days the deaths occurred, the temperature was hotter and the air more humid than normal local conditions,” said UGA climatologist Andrew Grundstein, who is the study’s senior author.
In Oregon the OSAA (Oregon Schools Activity Association) has had stringent rules which make it a violation for any team to practice on days when the Heat Index ( A mathematical calculation that looks at humidity and heat in combination) is beyond acceptable limits.
The OSAA provides a heat index calculator online which can be found right here. OSAA HEAT INDEX . The OSAA is very forward thinking and even though heat is not a known factor it is not unusual for last July and the months of August to have concurrent days well into the high 90′s or 100 degrees.
We have a call into the WIAA in Washington but have not received a return call as of yet but it seems they hold their coaches and programs to the same sort of standards. A link will be posted as soon as possible there as well.
Changes Are Needed:
Every State has to have Heat Index Rules like Oregon and because we all need to be held accountable. This is a game we are talking about. Any program that is willing to put the game before player safety on any level including this heat related death epidemic is going to be in some serious trouble. Our Coaches are trying to operate in a tougher and tougher environment. Having guidelines makes it easier for them to stay on course and ensure player safety and we need to support them in ever way possible.
Many are suggesting that moving the beginning of the school year to early or mid September would be the best fit and have many other benefits. This would let families enjoy the best weather months for outdoor activities, trips, and rest. Overall by starting the football season later we could insure the safety of many of these kids.
Programs also need to pay careful attention to the way they train their players. Expecting the big kids to run 120 or 240 yard “gassers” and hang with the skill players in sweltering heat and humidity is foolish. Those same kids can gain as much or more benefit running 10 yard bursts which better resembles the type of physical regimen they will need to have on the field.
We have to be smarter and adapt to these conditions and to educate the kids as to the signs of the onset of heat stroke and Hyperthermia. Another reason of course to have a trainer at every practice and game and to have chilled towels, misters, and ice on hand. Having a Trainer for every team is not longer a luxury but a necessity and we have to support our kids and our Coaches by having the trainer there to be the go to person on these and other health related issues.
Bottom line is we that we have to do everything and anything we can to stem this problem. Heat related deaths are 100% preventable. Therefore it should be the goal of every team to never have to be faced with heat related death or even severe illness.
A great PDF Presentation on the topic is right here as well.