High school football players train too hard in hot weather, studies suggest

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(Credit: MGNOnline)

AURORA, Colo. — Two new studies on heat exertion among high school football players show only 2.5 percent of certified athletic trainers surveyed complied with national guidelines aimed at limiting heat-related illness.

“These studies show that heat-related events are taking place every year that could result in death,” said Dawn Comstock, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health and co-author of both studies. “There are clear guidelines but they are not being followed consistently or widely enough.”

The first study was published recently in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, and the second appeared in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Each year 6,500 high school football players are treated for exertional heat illness and some even die, Comstock said. In 2009, the Inter-Association Task Force developed 17 pre-season heat acclimatization guidelines.

The Medicine & Science study found that just 2.5 percent of 1,142 certified athletic trainers surveyed complied with the 17 guidelines.

The guidelines with the lowest compliance rate were: “Single practice days consisted of practice no more than three hours in length,” at just 39.7 percent compliance.

On average, only 7.6 of the 17 heat exertion strategies were followed.

“We don’t want to blame the certified athletic trainers for this,” Comstock said. “Most are knowledgeable of prevention guidelines but lack either the resources to put them into place or the authority over coaches to enforce them.”

The second study dealt with managing exertional heat stroke in high school football players. The potentially fatal condition is characterized by a core temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or above, which can cause major organ failure. Between 1995 and 2010, 35 high school football players died from EHS, Comstock said.

The research found that certified athletic trainers have increased their awareness and proactive treatment of EHS. But the study also showed that more effective, easily implemented strategies are not being widely employed when early symptoms appear.

“These studies are significant because year after year we see young athletes die in ways that are totally preventable,” Comstock said. “It is ridiculous to have another athlete die in this way.”