The National Weather Service provides a measurement called the heat index that attempts to convey true ambient temperature. The weakness of that measurement, Grundstein explained, is that it does not account for sun exposure or a person's involvement in athletic activity.
Neither method of measuring temperature accounts for the protective pads and helmets football players wear during practice.
"We all want a single magic number to indicate the heat threshold," Grundstein said. "But so many factors contribute to heat stress that it's impossible to draw the line at a single temperature."
Grundstein cautioned against assigning complete blame for the deaths on warmer temperatures and increasing humidity. He found that football players have also grown larger since 1980. Linemen, who tend to have a higher body mass index than other players, seem especially susceptible to hyperthermia. In Grundstein's sample, 86 percent of those who died were linemen. The increase in deaths also could be explained by an overall increase in weight and BMI in the past 15 years.
Even though specialized tools such as the wet bulb global thermometer are available, not all football coaches decide to use them. In addition to knowing the true temperature outdoors, another approach to avoiding heat illnesses is to make sure players are slowly introduced to an intense workout regime after a summer probably spent inside air-conditioned environments. It is also important to have trained staff watching for signs of heat illness and to have an emergency management plan in place, he said.
Grundstein is currently working with Mike Ferrara, professor of kinesiology in the UGA College of Education, to study heat-related injuries in Georgia high school football players. Deaths from hyperthermia, Grundstein said, are highly avoidable.
|Contact: Andrew Grundstein|
University of Georgia