High school athletes need about 10-14 days to acclimate their bodies to the heat stress in preseason practices in late July and August each year, and gradual acclimatization to these conditions can help minimize the risk of exertional heat illnesses, or EHI, according to a three-year study by UGA researchers.
Heat-related deaths among football players across the country tripled to nearly three per year between 1994 and 2009 after averaging about one per year the previous 15 years, according to a related UGA study by climatologist Andrew Grundstein, an associate professor of geography. Overall, Georgia led the nation in deaths with seven fatalities. Two more Georgia high school athletes died last August.
“Heat stroke is a preventable death with proper acclimatization of the athlete, recognition of the condition and immediate and rapid cooling when a heat stroke is suspected,” said Michael Ferrara, professor of kinesiology and associate dean for research in the College of Education. He co-directed the study with Bud Cooper, associate department head of kinesiology.
On March 19, Georgia became the latest state to adopt preseason heat acclimatization guidelines for secondary school athletics. In just the past year, Connecticut, New Jersey, Texas and North Carolina have followed this trend.
Three years ago, the Georgia High School Association decided to develop guidelines to protect the health and safety of their athletes, but they wanted the facts first.
They partnered with the Georgia Athletic Trainers’ Association, the National Federation of State High School Associations Foundation and the National Athletic Trainers Association Research and Educational Foundation to fund the UGA study that looked at the rate of EHI in 25 high schools throughout the state.