Football and heat: Who's at risk
August 5th, 2011
01:35 PM ET

Football and heat: Who's at risk

When a kid goes out for football, you don't think of it putting his life at risk. But maybe you should.

Sad events in recent days  - "We think it was the worst week in the last 35 years in terms of athlete death" one expert told CNN –   make it feel as if it there's an epidemic of deaths related to high school athletics.

In fact, research from  2010 showed more football players are dying now than in previous years.  On average, between 1980 and 1994 there were fewer than two deaths a year.  After 1995, the average went up to nearly three deaths a year.  The study found a total of 58 football players died between 1980 and 2009.  All but 10 were 18 or younger.

Some experts believe a lack of rules for working out is a factor in the deaths.  And the climate scientists who conducted the 2010 research, published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, believe they've found clues to why there are now more players dying.

– Players are getting bigger.  “Football players at all levels of competition and particularly linemen have increased in size over time” the study says, “the greater size would increase heat storage and therefore the possibility of heat-related illnesses.”  The players who died were usually linemen, and the study shows 79 percent had a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) categorizes a BMI more than 30 as obese.

– It’s getting hotter.  Several studies have shown climate conditions are getting hotter and more humid.  The researchers explain that that means there could be more “stressful meteorological conditions and thus an increased risk for heat-related illnesses.”

– Morning practices, which are often scheduled so players can work out before the heat of the day, didn’t keep players from dying.  The study found more than half of the deaths between 1980 and 2009 were during the morning.  Higher humidity, which is common in the morning, is the likely reason.   “When the humidity is high, sweat won't evaporate as quickly, which keeps your body from releasing heat as fast as it may need to,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes.

– Most of the football players died in August, according to the study.  Not only is it one of the hottest summer months, but it is when many high school football practices first start.  Researchers found “in 13 cases, news reports specifically noted that the death occurred within the first 3 days of practice” when players are less conditioned, and are more apt to be less accustomed to working out in the heat.  An earlier study in Alabama found that “there were no environmental combinations at any time periods during the month of August for any locale in the state that would be considered safe for outdoors practice in full uniform”

– Even when players are not wearing full uniforms they are still at risk of dying.  The 2010 study found, “Many of the deaths, however, were among players wearing no pads and minimal clothing.”  They explained the likely reason is workouts in less clothing tend to take place in earlier practices when players are not accustomed to the hot and humid conditions.

To prevent these deaths, the  researchers say, coaches need to monitor players, the temperature, and especially the humidity carefully.

The CDC lists signs of the deadly heatstroke which parents, players, and coaches can look out for.  They include: stopping sweating, having hot and dry skin, a rapid strong pulse, a throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and unconsciousness.  Anyone suspected of heat stroke needs emergency help.  The CDC says while waiting on paramedics you can get the victim out of the sun and cool them by spraying them with water.

soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Kevin

    One reason that was not cited is the increased use of artificial turf. There are many studies demonstrating that sthetic turf can be up to 30-40 degrees above ambient air temperature. Natural turf does not show such a temperature spike. Additionally, the recommended strategy to combat this spike was to water the artificial turf. This often creates dangereous humidity levels a few feet above the surface, in the activity zone. Furthermore, the cooling effect of the water is very short lived. Parents and coaches need to be aware of the effects of heat. This is even more true if the playing surface is synthetic.

    August 5, 2011 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bronxgal

      Good point! I hate artificial turf....all those toxins cooking and your kids playing right in it...it can't be healthy.

      August 5, 2011 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
  2. Deanna

    And no one mentioned that kids aren't in the same kind of shape they were 20 and 30 years ago. Instead of spending their summers working outside, most kids are sitting inside in the air conditioning playing videogames until two-a-days roll around.

    August 5, 2011 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • heath

      what information leads you to believe this statement is factual at all?

      August 5, 2011 at 16:19 | Report abuse |
    • Coach Conrad

      I don't know if that is true. Back in '76 I was worried about the team getting soft on me during the summer. You know, sitting around the pool all day, chasing the m*ff around. Breakdown!

      August 5, 2011 at 17:02 | Report abuse |
    • Randall "Pink" Floyd

      Marijuana on 1, reefer on 2. Hut!

      August 5, 2011 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
    • LaLa

      Totally agree Deanna......I don't know of too many children that are even 1/2 as active as we were when we were younger.
      The obesity isue has gotten so far out of control. The article DOES mention the kids are bigger.....but they lack saying the kids are out of shape and bigger. (guess they don't want to offend). Look at yearbooks from 25 yrs ago and then look at todays. 25 yrs ago THE KIDS WERE NOT OVERWEIGHT (as a whole), and NOW....almost everyone is. That HAS to be a
      factor...thank you video games and computers/ fast food and softdrinks! (joke)

      August 5, 2011 at 18:41 | Report abuse |
    • browncd81

      Deanna, I'm sure thats the case for most children or your children. But football players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger over time. They're much better conditioned than they were even a decade ago. Football conditioning is year round.

      August 6, 2011 at 10:34 | Report abuse |
    • browncd81

      @Lala – while your points are right about kids overall, it's important to break the population down into two groups. Athletes and non-athletes. Your comment is about the latter while the article is about the former. Athletes today are better trained than they were before. Also a higher percentage of kids are athletes than before due to there being more sports. So that just goes to show that non-athletes must really be fat and out of shape to bring the statistics down to this level considering that there's a great lift from athletes than ever before.

      August 6, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse |
    • restoman

      Good point Deanna, I wonder how many football players died between 1960 and 1980 when we played outside and talked to each other

      August 6, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Could it just be that we have more very hot days and that increases the probability that the perfect storm of a foolish coach, a dehydrated player and a few extra degrees will occur?

      August 7, 2011 at 02:09 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      But to be honest, I agree that kids are not in the shape they were in 30 years ago. Being on a high school team doesn't mean you're a athlete. All too often, it just means you're taller and fatter than most of the others. Increased body fat means decreased ability to cool. When I started running, I was 50 lbs overweight. I had a terrible time running when it was hot even though I had no problem when it was cooler. Now, thirty-five years (and -50 lbs) later, I don't think twice about running in 95 degree weather.

      August 7, 2011 at 02:22 | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      I agree that kids are more overweight now than they were years ago. I am an athletic trainer at a local high school and experience these hot and humid two-a-days first hand. There are plenty of kids on my football teams (especially my JV) who you can tell did who knows what over the summer, but it wasn't working out. And my coaches do have football training year round, but not everyone goes. Those who go, get more playing time, but everyone still has to go through two-a-days. Also, the kids do not know proper nutrition, either. I've had many kids vomitting on the sidelines because they ate greasy, fast food between practices for lunch or had heavy breakfasts and didn't replace the fluids they lost from the day before. Kids aren't as motivated now because quite a few are forced into signing up for a sport as a way of "babysitting", as both parents work and need someone to watch their kids after school. As sad as it sounds, it does happen.

      August 8, 2011 at 10:51 | Report abuse |
  3. Gaz

    Quite honestly I think it's the average Americans inability to recognize what being fat is, what damage it really does, and what the consequences of not addressing it will be.
    It's astonishing how many players don't make it into old age.
    Highschool children who play football are now 200 plus lbs. It's just wrong.

    August 5, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Joe X

    We are all different in the rate our bodies disipate heat. I for one can soak my shirt before going outside in the heat and work next to a person doing the same work... My shirt dries and the other guy's shirt gets soaking wet. This must be recognized and activities mut be adjusted. Weight, humidity and general health are factors As well as one gets older it also get tougher to bare the heat and humidity.

    August 5, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LaLa

      I agree tht SOME people are better able to handle heat...esp those accustomed to it. I work in a greenhouse where NORMAL day temps are above 100. I adjust. I sweat like crazy and drink eat properly. SOME do not cool themselves well. If a player is one of those people they need to be aware but I am also tired of parents making excuses for kids and not wanting them to work. The human body is unique in that it gets stronger with work. Evreyone has a limit and it's important to know the difference between a limit and an excuse

      August 5, 2011 at 18:44 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      At 62, I handle the heat much better that I did 30 years ago when I weighed 50 pounds more. It was hard work to lose the weight and keep it off, but the benefits are well worth it. I could barely climb two flights of stairs without gasping for air in those days. I just finished my third half-marathon last month, and set a PR doing it. Parents – get you kids off their lazy rears and get them moving. It's that fat this is killing them, not the heat.

      August 7, 2011 at 02:29 | Report abuse |
  5. JEM

    Why not use the field lights and practice at night? No sun beating down on you.
    Games are played at night, so why not practice in the conditions you will play in?

    August 5, 2011 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Huh

      What sport are you watching?

      NFL games are played for the most part at 1:00pm (ET or PT).

      College games are played during the day and night.

      High School games are late afternoon.

      August 5, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse |
    • Auticus

      I think we're talking about HIGH SCHOOL football here, not PRO or COLLEGE. Where I grew up, and where I live now, HIGH SCHOOL football game start around 6:30 – 7:00, not late afternoon. They are indeed played under the lights at night for the most part, save the beginning of the season when it's still light out at that time.

      August 8, 2011 at 08:20 | Report abuse |
  6. Joe X

    Part of the problem is pressure to win Coaches push harder to train and strengthen the CHILDREN without regard for their health. Proof is how many coaches are training the players in the high schools.

    August 5, 2011 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Melina

    It's also the rest of the country's lack of experience with this sort of heat. All summer long I have been watching the news about the extreme heat. CNN even had a story about 15 cities too hot for humans. I was interested to see what those were so I read them. I was astonished that the top temperature was 114. I know, tack on the humidity, blah, blah, blah. I live in AZ where it's not considered hot until it gets about 110 (which is the norm for us) and we have our monsson season in the hottest part of the year. We hit 119 this summer and we were outside all afternoon. My kids have played football for years with Pop Warner and now high school. Our kids are used to dealing with the heat. It doesn't matter if you play sports or not, when it's hot out you need to drink water. Kids in AZ sports are never denied a drink of water and most high schools and youth sports have water at every station of practice. I guess that is the difference of living in these conditions and not living in them. You can keep your cold, lol.

    August 5, 2011 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LaLa

      my daughter (now 14) plays travel softball. WE COMPETE: usually 3 or more games in a day, in this heat. We practice in the heat too...I agree with you! I work in a greenhouse where daily temps are well above 100. I adjust. You just hafta be smart!

      August 5, 2011 at 18:47 | Report abuse |
    • Lawrene

      I am tired of people saying that the heat is fine because it is a dry heat. We had some dry heat here in Kansas and it is still bad. In phoenix Most people have good a/c units and pool access. Is there a house without a/c in phoenix? There are lots of homes without a/c in Kansas City area. One elderly woman died because someone stole here a/c unit and it was caged in steel.

      August 6, 2011 at 10:51 | Report abuse |
    • Sal

      So tell me exactly what makes 110 and 0% humidity feel worse than 95-105 with 80-100% humidity? Where people are dying we don't get relief when the sun goes down. Your 0% humidity makes for a pleasant night but we still get stuck with hot soup for air.

      August 7, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse |
  8. Zoofro

    BMI is such an archaic system that needs to be replaced. According to BMI bodybuilders are obese.

    August 5, 2011 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anonymous Paradox

      Haha. Without fail there is always some moron that posts that the BMI is garbage. The BMI applies to the majority of
      a population and works reasonably well for them precisely because the majority are not body builders or engage in
      intense exercises and hence, will likely have a higher muscle to fat ratio.

      The reason it is used by medical professionals is because they understand this and you, apparently, do not. When an athlete is evaluated, we can use other methods for determining their body fat to get a clear indication of muscle to
      fat mass.

      Thank you for playing. The next lesson will not be for free.

      August 7, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse |
    • Sal

      You lot always rag on BMI but rarely (if ever) suggest a replacement. So please, all-knowing-one, what would be a more accurate, non-intrusive, and easy to perform (so not only physicians can use it) way to test for body fat levels? If you are in the market for bashing archaic tests, why don't you tell me why my physician doesn't know if I've a hernia or not until my coinpurse is jangling around in their hand?

      August 7, 2011 at 15:12 | Report abuse |
  9. Michael

    I used to video tape a Texas HS football team every season from start to finish including the august work outs and trainings... the coaches and players though it was funny to see who was going to be the first player to fall out and give up from the heat ... no student wanted to to be that one that couldn't take it ... additionally I was to watch out for the first player to puke in a workout and tape it so it could be included in the seasonal highlight reel ....... gotta wonder how many coaches run their workouts this way

    August 5, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • charls

      One coach doing it the old way is one too many.

      August 6, 2011 at 14:46 | Report abuse |
  10. NewYorkTony

    I'll tell you why it's so hot. One word. Obama. Look at the drought in Texas. Obama and his goons are ruining our lives singlehandedly. I'm so sick of this heat and sick of Obama. VOTE HIM OUT.

    August 5, 2011 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tmla


      Wait a MINUTE! He was probably behind all that FLOODING TOO! Oh No! It's hurrican season – that means I'm next! aaaggghh!

      August 5, 2011 at 19:11 | Report abuse |
    • you are an idiot

      You......... are an IDIOT of degree ONE. Go outside and fry that teeny brain!

      August 6, 2011 at 16:56 | Report abuse |
  11. USMC_Tim

    These guys should be educated in heat related injuries. Also, i would be curious to find out, how many of them were hydrating properly? I would guess that they were under hydrated, sweated out all their electrolytes, and replaced neither.

    August 5, 2011 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Young_Marine

      Not only are they not hydrateding properly, they are probably not hydrating with the proper stuff stuff being WATER... now I can't say that I dont drink an energy drink here and there, but when its hot out I dont drink them or if I know that im going to be outside all day fully flaked up.

      August 8, 2011 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
  12. Mary

    I would think that some of the problem may be related to too many kids taking medication. Every body reacts differently to the heat, but drugs used to treat ADD and ADHD have side effects that include raising internal body temperatures. That plus the heat would cause some child athletes to heat up much faster than their peers who are not on such medication.

    August 5, 2011 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Linda

    The plain and simple reason is that we don't regard extreme heat and humidity as potentially dangerous.

    We think to take pracautions with extreme cold, tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires, but we don't think of heat and humidity as weather that requires some precautions too.

    Deaths from extreme heat are a matter of exposure. It's unfortunate that people who can't avoid exposure are hurt by the heat. The rest of us don't need to volunteer for the same risk.

    August 5, 2011 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. coastisclear

    I grew up in South Louisiana running track and playing softball in the summers. Our coaches told the parents to make sure we were outside in the heat of the day. It is all about what you are acclimated to. You can't sit inside all summer and then August 1st decide to put on your helmet and start 2 a days.

    August 5, 2011 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. ralk

    Use common sense...what a stupid question that is! Why do they die! it is to hot and they need more water and don't work out in the heat! get a life huh!

    August 5, 2011 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. NewYorkTony

    tmla – you are exactly right. You may very well be next! Be warned! Obama is out to get us! And using the weather is one of his tactics.

    August 5, 2011 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. ddirt@comcast.net

    who makes a goofball commemt abt obama makes it hot .....foolery at its best.

    August 5, 2011 at 21:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tmla

      (sigh) loosen up folks.

      August 6, 2011 at 07:49 | Report abuse |
  18. Emelia Kanson

    @NewYorkTony and @tmla;
    ...Are you two idiots?

    August 6, 2011 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tmla

      Um darlin – it's called sarcasm. Do try to understand. In this polarized world, EVERYTHING is Obama's fault, just as it was Bush's fault before.

      August 6, 2011 at 07:47 | Report abuse |
  19. libbigirl

    I think that the sport should be lef the way it is. I mean kids can't even swing on swingsets anymore around here cause some kid got hurt and their parents sued the school. There comes a point where risks are just part of life and blocking the way things are cause of a few incidents is bothersome.

    August 6, 2011 at 07:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Frustrated Mom

    I think kids and adults are getting bigger because of the steriods in our food. Don't you find it odd that over the past 10 years people in the U.S. have been battling weight. My children are very active. They don't sit around eating or playing video games all day. They are outside playing, exercising, and they eat a healthy diet. The problem is my youngest son is 9 years old with fatty liver disease. I really believe the chemicals in our food is a big part of the problem. Think about it.. steriod filled food, larger children. Fatty liver disease is on the rise in children and doctors don't know what to do about it! We need to look closer at the problems causing health issues for our children before we blame the weather or video games.

    August 6, 2011 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • elise

      It is not that hard to keep an eye on what kind of food you're buying frustrated mom. I don't blame the questionable things in food these days, I blame the people who buy those foods and support the companies that make them.

      August 6, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse |
    • Frustrated Mom

      To Elise- I agree with you about keeping an eye on what food to buy and being held accountable for that. My family learned the hard way. We grow our own vegetables now. I read labels and nutrition values, but some companies are misleading, they say cage free but they are not, organic and they are not, and etc. I respect your opinion and thank you for your comment.

      August 7, 2011 at 09:19 | Report abuse |
  21. Chance

    a huge reason for accidents is that kids have been brought up pussified and have spent their entire lives in the a/c playing world of warcraft and watching redtube. parents think they are caring and protecting their children but they are really just raising worthless human beings that literally can't handle the heat. our parents dudn't have such luxuries which is why this phenomenon on football practice deaths is relatively new.

    August 6, 2011 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • charls

      Kids have been dying from heat stress in football practice for a long time. "Some 123 players died from heat exhaustion between 1960 and 2009, said Andrew Grundstein, an associate professor at University of Georgia who has studied hyperthermia among high school players." see http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/08/05/scientists-warn-of-heat-risk-to-high-school-football-players/ . So much for the theory that it never happened until recently.

      August 6, 2011 at 21:45 | Report abuse |
  22. AQ

    While all of those are factors... and any parent that sends their child to football practice in this heat should be held accountable too – the fact is, has anyone looked at the effects those energy drinks have on the kids? They are still developing and with the increased exercise and chugging those drinks like their water I imagine they are helping to kill themselves. Their hearts can't take those levels of caffeine. I'm just saying...

    August 6, 2011 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Mr. Fluffy

    Most coaches are ignorant of the scientific principals behind the specificity of training. They strive to push their kids so hard they puke. However, if your kids are puking during practice, there is something wrong with the way you train.

    August 7, 2011 at 23:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. ally1

    It is awful to blame the athletes of having body mass as "obese" – I am obese, they are all muscle!!!
    I am not a sports fan anyways, but how bad do I feel for them and their families when told they were obese and that's why they died???
    They were exposed to extreme temps that should be illegal to practice. You want to keep a football team = build an indoor gym for that, period. Like if you are living in north pole or something, heat/cold, no matter.
    What matters is the health of your players, and don't tell them to be on a diet while exercising like crazy FOR YOUR TEAM!

    August 7, 2011 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Jorge

    Football is a really stupid way to get your kids in shape. It's not very aerobic or strength-developing in and of itself, and it offers a choice selection of opportunities to give them musculo-skeletal injuries in the growing stage of their lives. I played football in high school and soon abandoned it for the supplemental exercises associated with it, powerlifting and cross-country running. I found that I was actually getting in better shape in less time and with less effort by doing that. Plus, I had more energy left over to take a weekend job, study and pursue other gainful interests. I think that the compulsion of a lot of adults to push their kids to play school team football is more of a couch-and-TV, chips and beer fetish than actual knowledge of athletic development and physical education.

    August 8, 2011 at 07:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Concerned Mom

    I am a mother of two young children and have watched with horror as we lose more of our youth senselessly. This is particularly agregious given the fact that Fox 40 is now offering a mouthguard that can completely prevent additional deaths and illness. The Fox 40 Heat Alert Mouthguard changes color as the player's internal temperature reaches 102 degrees and fully changes color when their body temperature reaches 105 degrees. Saving kids' lives is as simple as taking the player off the field for a break and rehydration when their mouthguard changes color! Follow this link for additional information regarding these mouthguards right from the Fox 40 website.


    Please be sure to pass this information along...no more children need to be lost!!!

    January 17, 2012 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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