STORRS , Conn. – Parents, coaches and camp counselors take note: It’s not enough to get kids off the couch and exercising this summer. You’ve also got to make sure they’re replacing the fluids they’re losing in the heat.
Three University of Connecticut studies recently presented to the American College of Sports Medicine found that between 50 and 75 percent of boys and girls at sports camps were significantly dehydrated. Twenty-five 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, said Douglas Casa, an associate professor of kinesiology in UConn’s Neag School of Education. Casa led the studies at soccer and football camps in Connecticut and Pennsylvania during the summers of 2003 and 2004.
The children, ages 9 to 16, also suffered significant dehydration despite an overwhelming display of knowledge and positive attitudes about healthy hydration habits, Casa said.
“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.”
During the 2004 study, Casa assessed campers’ hydration knowledge and attitudes as well as behaviors for the first time. Campers completed questionnaires and most rated the need to stay hydrated and drink more fluids as they increased their exercise intensity as extremely important, Casa found.
During the course of two summers, Casa studied a total of 128 children at four-day camps, analyzing urine samples collected before and after their exercise sessions. On average, campers took part in three to four hours of structured exercise each day.
This summer, Casa will return to soccer and football camps in Connecticut where he and his research team will conduct one-on-one hydration interventions with campers at the end of each day.
“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.”
Casa presented his most recent findings at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association annual meeting in Indianapolis earlier this month. His studies also were published in supplements of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and the Journal of Athletic Training in May.
Both of his studies were funded by the National Safe Kids Campaign.