Study: don’t ignore cardiac health of middle school athletes

Study: don’t ignore cardiac health of middle school athletes

(Conn.) Young teenagers accounted for the majority of sudden death in American youth sports between 2007 and 2015, with heart-related fatalities being the most common cause, according to a new study.

The most common setting for a fatality was during organized middle school practice time, and the most common sport that inflicted sudden death was basketball.

Researchers from the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut found that during that time span, sudden cardiac death accounted for 76 percent of the total deaths in youth sports. Basketball accounted for the largest proportion, at 36 percent.

“Sudden cardiac death is one hundred percent preventable,” Tory Lindley, president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, said in a statement. “While high school and college sports usually get the spotlight when it comes to the prevention of catastrophic health and injury events, this study confirms the need to extend best practices and policies to the youth and recreational levels to protect all young athletes. It is incumbent on middle schools, organized and recreational sports programs to put the health and safety of participant’s first.”

Increasing efforts have been made in recent years to protect student athletes. In California alone, former-Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last year requiring that coaches of high school athletics undergo training to spot the signs and symptoms of heat illness and respond to students suffering heat exhaustion and exertional heat stroke.

In 2017, schools with competitive cheer teams were mandated to ensure coaches meet all the same safety training requirements as those who coach any other interscholastic sport in the state–which includes courses on concussions, first aid and CPR.

And beginning this summer, California districts will need to acquire at least one automated external defibrillator, or AED, for each school to protect student athletes from sudden cardiac arrest during both games and practices. Studies cited by the American Heart Association have shown that, the chances of survival are close to 90 percent if a deliberator is used within the first minute of collapse, but the odds decrease by 7 percent to 10 percent for each additional minute that passes.

Nationally, the Korey Stringer Institute report showed that 45 sudden deaths were reported in American youth sports from 2007-2015. Of those, 73 percent occurred among children aged 12 to 14 years, and more than 66 percent occurred during practices.

Researchers focused on middle school sports, organized youth sports leagues and clubs, and recreational youth sport events. More than 58 percent of sudden deaths occurred in organized middle school sports, whereas 40 percent of affected athletes participated in recreational and youth sport leagues.

Basketball accounted for the largest portion of those at 36 percent, followed by baseball and football, both at 16 percent, and soccer at 13 percent.

New York reported the largest number of sudden deaths, followed by Illinois, California, Georgia and New Jersey.

Four out of five sudden deaths affected males.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the attention typically paid to high school athletes, 58 percent of sudden deaths occurred in organized middle school sports, according to the study.

“Until this study, sudden deaths occurring in youth sport had been grouped with sudden deaths occurring in older athletic populations in previous epidemiological studies,” said Brad Endres, assistant director of sport safety at KSI and lead author of the study. “Our goal was to clearly define the understanding of ‘youth sport’ so that more appropriate and evidence-based policy decisions aimed at improving youth sport safety can be implemented.”

Recommendations to improve student athlete safety among middle school-aged children include completing a pre-participation evaluation with a medical professional prior to the start of the season; and ensuring someone at every practice and game is certified in CPR and knows how to use and has access to an automated external defibrillator.

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