Rapid weight loss in young wrestlers
Young wrestlers competing in international style competitions continue to engage in unsafe rapid weight loss practices, despite the heightened concern associated with three tragic deaths in 1997. That’s the worrying conclusion of a large-scale US study of high school wrestlers.
Following the deaths of the three intercollegiate wrestlers, new policies prohibiting unsafe weight loss practices have been adopted by the bodies overseeing high school sport, but not for international style (freestyle and Greco-Roman) wrestling that attracts young wrestlers once the regulated scholastic season is over.
A total of 2,638 youngsters taking part in the 1997 and 1998 Cadet and Junior National Freestyle/Greco-Roman Wrestling Championships were randomly selected to be weighed with electronic scales at the matside, with the magnitude of weight gain since weigh-in taken to reflect weight loss beforehand. The methods used to accomplish weight loss were also assessed in a sub-sample of wrestlers.
Analysis of the results revealed an average weight gain of 3.4kg, representing a 4.81% gain in body weight, with older and more successful wrestlers (ie placers) gaining significantly more weight than their younger and less successful counterparts.
The commonest reported weight loss strategies were excessive running (used by more than 90%), saunas (55.6%), exercising in rubber suits (48.9%), cycling (33.3%), swimming (24.4%) and diuretics (11.1%). None of the athletes reported the use of vomiting to lose weight.
Nevertheless, they reported a range of side effects of weight loss, including headache (experienced by 46.7%), dizziness (44.4%) and nausea (42.2%).
‘The current findings,’ conclude the researchers, ‘suggest that wrestlers still perceive a benefit to [rapid weight loss] and will engage in such practices given the opportunity. These results illustrate that steps need to be taken to bring international style wrestling in line with weight reduction policies that have recently been instituted at the high school and collegiate levels.’
Med Sci Sports Exerc, vol 36, no 2, pp249-252, 2004
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