Recently, a New York Times article reported on hyponatremia, and the risks of consuming too much water during sport participation. While this conversation is important to the safety of youth athletes, arguably as important is the validity of the information provided to spark the conversation. The authors highlight recent evidence to suggest that athletes who exercise in the heat until they become severely dehydrated were no more prone to muscle cramps than they had been at the start. However, the article generalized the findings, and translated data from Ironman® triathletes to high school football players. The article goes on to propose that being dehydrated does not increase athletes’ susceptibility to heat issues, while experts have shown dehydration is a risk factor to heat illness, even providing formulas and specific calculations to ensure athletes are hydrated before, during, and after practice.1
We know that interpreting data from high level, acclimatized elite athletes and translating it to the average high school football player is inappropriate and may confuse parents, patients, or even Athletic Trainers who read the article as accurate. However, Athletic Trainers have a responsibility to be involved and be more critical and more involved in the conversation on popular media. Athletic Trainers are the first to recognize and treat patients suffering from heat illness and are also responsible for preventing and therefore, have an obligation to get involved in the dialog happening in the news, especially when it comes to our area of expertise. Likewise, Athletic Trainers need to be better at disseminating their own research in areas of specialization.
Patients, parents, and Athletic Trainers look to popular media as a reliable source of information to guide decision making about their participation in sport or their overall health. Oftentimes these decisions affect the safety and well-being of young athletes, who trust parents, coaches, and Athletic Trainers to keep them safe while participating in athletics. Athletic Trainers have a professional responsibility to read more than just the news article, to read and conduct research, and get involved in the conversation. Be better and dig deeper.
-Emma Nye LAT, ATC
1. Quick Questions in Heat-Related Illness and Hydration: Expert Advice in Sports Medicine (pp 157-160)