Exercise :: Rapid Weight Changes Found Risky for Young Athletes

Doctors should be aware of the health risks posed to teenage athletes who quickly slim down by forcing themselves to vomit or by avoiding fluids, or who bulk up by overeating, a report said.

Teenagers who rapidly gain or lose weight are more susceptible than adults to dehydration, heat illness and eating disorders because their bodies produce more heat relative to body mass while their immature sweat glands are less able to acclimate, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics published in the journal Pediatrics.

Many wrestlers, runners, swimmers, skaters, and gymnasts are encouraged to lose weight and develop lean muscle, and some must meet weight restrictions to qualify. Football and basketball players and weight lifters can feel pressure to gain weight and strength.

“Weight loss accomplished by overexercising; using rubber suits, steam baths, or saunas; prolonged fasting; fluid reduction; vomiting; or using anorexic drugs, laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, insulin, stimulants, nutritional supplements, or other legal or illegal drugs and/or nicotine should be prohibited at all ages,” according to the report by a committee of pediatricians.

Similarly, young athletes who want to gain weight should consult a physician and a dietitian to ensure the weight is put on gradually. Supplements or excessive weight gain can increase the likelihood of heat illness and complications from obesity, it said.

The report urged physicians to determine young athletes’ weight history and dietary habits, and be able to recognize eating disorders.

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