Is Excessive Heat And Youth Football A Dangerous Mix?
Football season is rapidly approaching. Camps for youth recreational leagues, high school, colleges and the NFL are starting in July when some heat indices (combination of temperature and humidity) are well into the upper 90s or 100s in some parts of the country. Inspired by social media posts yesterday noting that kids were in football camps in Georgia, I wanted to highlight the question, "Is excessive heat and youth football a dangerous mix?"
Coaches and parents would immediately pull kids from a lightning storm, yet the perception of heat as a risk is lower. Dr. Michelle Hawkins is the Climate, Weather and Health Lead in the National Weather Service (NWS) Climate Services Branch. She told me,
CDC found that over 650 people die per year from exposure to extreme heat (most of any weather threat). These deaths are preventable. Heat is considered a silent killer. It doesn't come in toppling down trees or damaging homes, and often people don't even know that they are suffering from heat illness.
Three medical doctors recently wrote in a scholarly journal that hot, humid conditions are "the single most critical predisposing risk factor" associated with exertional heat illness. According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, 52 football players died over the period 1995 to 2012 from exertional heat stroke (EHS).
Korey Stringer, a pro-bowl tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, died in 2001 after collapsing from a morning practice in 91 degree heat. His body temperature reached 108 degrees and exhibited classic symptoms of heat stroke. His death elevated the issue, and the Korey Stringer Institute was established, to provide research, education, advocacy and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death for the athlete, soldier and laborer.
Professor Andrew Grunstein of the University of Georgia (UGA) is an international expert on weather and heat-related issues. In 2012, he and colleagues published a studied noting that heat-related football deaths tripled between 1994 and 2009, and the state of Georgia led the way. Their study developed a national database with information on humidity, temperature, time of day and attributes (height, weight, position) of the football players who died from hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is when the core body temperature is elevated above normal (not to be confused with hypothermia which is abnormally low body temperature). Grundstein, who collaborates with the Korey Stringer Institute, pointed out that the heat index seemed to be increasing in more recent years and players, particularly linemen, have gotten larger in size. Both of these factors increase risk.
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