Student football players’ deaths rise with warmer weather

By Sheryl Kay • Published: June 15th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For many athletes, lining up under center or going long for a well-thrown football is the American dream. It takes good teamwork, stamina and skill to even make it as a competitive football player on a high school or college team, let alone in the NFL.

Now, research shows it also may take the ability to withstand warmer outdoor temperatures and higher humidity … or serious health issues may emerge for high school and college-aged players.

Statistics show that the number of deaths among football players due to higher outdoor temperatures tripled to almost three per year between 1994 and 2009. The average had been only one per year for the preceding 15 years.

Using these numbers as the basis for their research, investigators constructed a database that included the temperature, humidity and time of day, as well as the height and weight for 58 high school and college football players who died from overheating during practice.

Their initial findings show that overall, morning temperatures were hotter the air more humid during the latter half of the 30-year study period. They also found that most of the deaths occurred in August, and on days when the practice sessions ended before noon.

While any respectable football program carefully monitors the weather and heat index, the researchers noted other factors come into play as well, including exposure time to direct sunlight, a person’s general involvement in athletic activity, and the increase in body temperature due to the protective helmets and pads. Coaches should slowly acclimate players to intense workouts outdoors, closely monitor players for subtle overheating and have a robust emergency plan already in place before the season begins.

These safety measures could help not only keep players in the game … but also alive.