Young athletes in the heat: Doctors revise guidelines
August 8th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Young athletes in the heat: Doctors revise guidelines

Because of recent reports of serious, even catastrophic heat-related events with school athletics, the American Academy of Pediatrics has revised its guidelines on heat and school athletes. They're published in this week's edition of the journal Pediatrics.

The recommendations focus on coaches and parents as well as kids. Authors of the statement believe heat-related illness can be prevented if school officials and adults are taught the risks of working out in high temperatures.

Football and heat: Who's at risk?

"Athletic directors, coaches, teachers and other adults who are overseeing children exercising in the heat should make themselves aware of ways to reduce the risk of heat illness, and they should develop an emergency action plan," said Dr. Cynthia Devore, co-author of the statement and chairperson of the AAP Council on School Health. "This is especially important as we head into high school preseason football."

The authors also recommend a trained staff member be available on site to keep an eye on anyone who might show signs of  heat illness. But the new statement, unlike the previous one, does not give precise rules about whether games or practices should be canceled if temperatures reach a certain level. They just suggest it. The statement does however, emphasize the need for coaches to provide adequate rest, at least two hours between major events, during practices and game day.

"Most healthy children and athletes can safely participate in outdoor sports and activities in a wide range of warm to hot weather, but adults sometimes create situations that are potentially dangerous," said Dr. Stephen G. Rice, co-author of the policy statement and a former member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.

In the statement, authors said it was important to educate kids on how to prevent heat illness, such as ways to dress and ways to stay hydrated, as well as gradually getting them used to being in the heat. And they stressed that coaches or adult supervisors, should assess each child on whether he or she can handle the heat, because each child handles heat differently.

"While coaches should make on-the-field decisions to improve safety for a team or event as a whole, individual participants may require more or less concern based on their health status and conditioning," said co-author Michael F. Bergeron, director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance at Sanford USD Medical Center, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The most notable change in AAP policy is the recognition that children can tolerate and adapt to exercise in heat as well as similarly fit adults, when adequate water is made available. The previous AAP policy, issued 11 years ago, suggested that children were less able to tolerate and adapt to heat stress compared with adults, but recent research has found youngsters and adults have similar physiological responses when exercising under the same conditions.

And see a doctor. The authors stressed it was very important that all young athletes see their pediatricians before starting any physical conditioning for fall sports,

Good advice, says the AAP, to beat the heat, while trying to beat the competition.

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