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Pediatricians say sports in heat okay with precautions

CHICAGO — Playing sports in hot, steamy weather is safe for healthy children and teen athletes, so long as precautions are taken and the drive to win doesn't trump common sense, the nation's largest pediatricians group says.

New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics arrive just as school sports ramp up in sultry August temperatures. The advice, released today, comes a week after two Georgia high school football players died following practices in 90-plus degree heat. Authorities were investigating if the weather contributed.

The guidelines replace a more restrictive policy based on old thinking that kids were more vulnerable to heat stress than adults. New research shows that's not true, the academy says.

With adequate training, water intake, timeouts and emergency treatment available on the sidelines, healthy young athletes can play even in high heat and humidity — within reason, the guidelines say.

"The more educated parents, athletes and staff are about risks associated with heat illness, the more likely they will think twice before allowing a competitive culture to overtake sound sensibilities," said Dr. Cynthia Devore, co-author of the policy and a physician for schools in the Rochester, N.Y., area.

Government data released last week showed that more than 3,000 U.S. children and teens younger than 20 received emergency-room treatment for nonfatal heat illness from sports or exercise between 2001 and 2009.

A few young athletes die annually from heat-related illness. Over a 13 year period, 29 high school football players died from heat stroke, data from the American Football Coaches Association and others show. Football is a special concern, because players often begin intense practice during late-summer heat, wearing uniforms and padding that can be stifling.

Academy advice

• Teams should have emergency plans with trained personnel and treatment available and policies for avoiding heat illness.

• Give kids about two weeks to adapt to preseason sessions, gradually increasing intensity and duration. Closely monitor more vulnerable kids, including those who are overweight or have diabetes.

• Make sure athletes are well-hydrated before practice or games. During activity, kids age 9-12 should drink about half a cup to a cup of water every 20 minutes; for teens, 5 or 6 cups an hour. Sports drinks containing electrolytes and sodium should be offered during extra strenuous activity.

• Educate about signs of heat stress, including dizziness, muscle cramps, headaches and nausea. Kids with symptoms should be sidelined and treated; athletes should be encouraged to report struggling teammates.

Pediatricians say sports in heat okay with precautions 08/07/11 [Last modified: Sunday, August 7, 2011 11:41pm]

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