Rules governing high school athletes have gone a long way to prevent exertional heat illness, according to a new study by the Georgia High School Association and researchers at the University of Georgia.
Looking at data collected before and after the GHSA implemented practice rules for high school athletes in 2012, UGA kinesiology professor Bud Cooper and former UGA professor Mike Ferrara (now with the University of New Hampshire) found that the number of exertional heat illness incidents was reduced by about 70 percent after the rules were in place and no heat strokes or heat-related deaths were reported.
The results of the study, which compared heat-related illnesses from 2008-2012 - before the GHSA implemented practice guidelines - and from 2012 to 2015 were recently presented to the GHSA State Executive Committee. Preliminary study findings indicated that exertional heat illness (EHI) risk was the greatest during the first six days of practice, when the practice lasted more than 2 hours and when weather conditions were "hot."
The preliminary results also indicated that the first 2 weeks of practice presented the greatest of EHI to the student-athlete. Modification to practice sessions such as the length or intensity of the workouts, the amount of equipment worn and the number or rest or hydration breaks may help to reduce the risk of exertional heat illness.
"While exertional heat illness is still a concern, it is a condition that is 100 percent preventable," said Cooper. "But it's important all of the appropriate measures are taken. For example, having a licensed athletic trainer present, comprehensive practice guidelines that govern participation and taking into consideration all health aspects of the student athlete."
Exertional heat illness became an issue in 2008 when Georgia led the nation in heat-related deaths among high school-age athletes. GHSA partnered with UGA to conduct an initial study, using the data to set specific guidelines.
Not only have the guidelines been effective in preventing exertional heat illness among high school athletes, but the rules have helped Georgia set a standard for rules across the country as it is the only state to have revised practice rules based on research supported data.
According to the Korey Stringer Institute, a national organization dedicated to preventing sudden deaths among athletes, soldiers and workers, heat stroke is one of the top three reasons athletes die during sport. Mandatory state guidelines, the institute says, are the first step in protecting athletes.
"Student-athlete health risks for heat-related illness were significantly reduced as a result of the GHSA making a concerted effort to make policy changes based on sound research," added Cooper. "The GHSA took a proactive approach to develop a policy to mitigate the risk on the lives of the student athlete."
Related links: Department of Kinesiology