Heat-related deaths have initiated talks on athlete safety

By The Mercury

Across the nation athletes of various ages have begun preparations for the upcoming fall sports season. For coaches, it’s a time to closely watch practices for top performances and to monitor an important determinant of those efforts: the heat index.

Heat-related athletic deaths have received increased attention in recent years. The development of physical activity policies is a new response to primarily heat-related issues with competitive sports. Creating the most effective policies involves constant revision and evolution, according to a Kansas State University physical activity expert.

Katie Heinrich, assistant professor of kinesiology, says that physical activity policies generally are designed to affect the environment or physical activity itself.

“The idea is that by focusing on the larger population through policies, you will help change the behaviors of many individuals at the same time,” she said.

While considerable dialogue on physical activity policies focuses on heat issues, policy development has a broader scope. In 1992 a consensus statement drafted by scientists and public health experts, the Victoria Declaration on Heart Health, called for policies to promote physical activity in combination with health education efforts to eliminate cardiovascular disease. Growth in physical activity policy research has enhanced understanding. The Physical Activity Policy Research Network, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, is investigating the development, implementation and efficacy of physical activity policies. Heinrich is a member of the network.

With heat-related deaths receiving greater attention from the media, questions emerge about inadequate precautions and shortcomings in policy. Athletes may overlook precautions because of the assumption they can better handle the heat, Heinrich said.

“Thus, a coach may get in one more drill, a person may push themselves beyond the pain and disaster can result,” Heinrich said. “For example, the young man that died in the August Warrior Dash in Kansas City was a healthy rugby player and a trained runner who worked at a hospital.

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