Between 50 and 75 percent of boys and girls attending summer sports camps are significantly dehydrated, according to recent studies. The studies found that 25 to 30 percent of the campers studied showed signs of serious dehydration, putting them at increased risk of heat-related illnesses.
The campers were dehydrated despite the availability of water and sports drinks, frequent breaks and coaches' encouragement to stay hydrated. The studies also showed that, once children are dehydrated, it is "nearly impossible for them to catch up."
Hydration knowledge not enough
The children, ages 9 to 16, also suffered significant dehydration despite an overwhelming display of knowledge and positive attitudes about healthy hydration habits, said Douglas Casa, a certified athletic trainer and director of athletic training education at U Conn and lead researcher in the studies.
"Most campers thought they were doing a pretty good job of staying hydrated during the day, but their thirst level during practice was not a good indicator of their hydration status," Casa said. "Obviously, there's a gap between their knowledge and their actual behavior."
Thirst not indicator of hydration status
"They can't just rely on their thirst. They need an actual hydration strategy a plan," Casa said.
"We're trying to keep the campers well-hydrated so they won't have athletic performance issues or put themselves at risk for heat-related illnesses," Casa said. "We also want them to have better hydration strategies in hand going into their high school and collegiate athletic programs, which will be even more rigorous and where the consequences of dehydration could be even greater."
Heat-related deaths rising
The critical importance of hydration for athletes was highlighted by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research's Annual Survey of Football Injuries, which reported 13 heat-related deaths among middle school and high school football players in 2006, the highest total since 1936.
And it isn't just football players who are dying from heat-related illness: a 9-year-old Massachusetts boy collapsed at summer camp and later died after complaining of being thirsty; Kelly Watt, 18, a stand-out athlete from Virginia died after suffering heat stroke while running, and 20-year old Scott Laio, a Boston College junior, died from a fluid and electrolyte imbalance and heat stress after participating in a crew race in Philadelphia.
Revised July 2, 2010