Study: Basketball Causes Majority of Sudden Youth Sports Deaths

In the United States, basketball is one of the top five largest sports. But according to a new study, it’s also responsible for the most substantial amount of sudden deaths in young athletes.

According to a recent study conducted by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the majority of sudden deaths in youth sports during 2007 to 2015 were attributed to cardiac episodes that occurred while playing basketball. Over this nine-year period, NATA found there were 45 deaths that took place. These sudden cardiac events were the most common fatal condition for young athletes in middle school or who participated in youth or recreation leagues. Two-thirds of these deadly episodes happened during practice, rather than during games, and most of the individuals who died were male and were 13 years old, on average. Approximately 35.6% of fatalities happened on the basketball court, with far fewer attributed to playing baseball, football, or soccer.

On average, there were five fatalities per year — but in 2015 alone, there were 11 youth sports fatalities. The correlation may have something to do with increased sports participation overall, but the number of fatalities still increased when compared to the number of participants in that year. In the end, the causation is not yet clear. And while states do typically require high school athletes to be cleared through a sports physical prior to participation in extracurricular sports, these standards tend to be more lenient among younger students. Experts generally believe that the risk of sudden cardiac increases with age, meaning that high school and college athletes need the clearance to participate. But since heart disease is the leading cause for both men and women in the U.S., resulting in 610,000 fatalities every year, this study suggests that it might be worth subjecting younger players to examinations, as well.

That said, medical exams don’t always reveal these conditions; some experts say they only become apparent when individuals actually participate in athletics. Pre-screenings may play an important role, but sports teams and organizers may need to become more proactive and prepared for these kinds of events. Having defibrillators on-hand at practices and events, as well as ensuring there are people who are properly trained to use that equipment and administer CPR, is essential. Parents should also take the initiative to inquire about a venue or organization’s emergency plans in case a participant experiences a serious or potentially fatal health issue.

While more research needs to be conducted in order to definitively say what’s causing the increase in youth basketball fatalities, acknowledging the prevalence of these cardiac episodes in student sports environments and the importance of preparation may yield positive results.

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