*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on ScienceDaily.
Thousands of student-athletes are sidelined by heat illnesses each year, but while guidelines exist to help coaches and trainers keep their students safe, there’s another group on the field that’s still at risk: students in marching bands.
“You read all these stories in newspapers about marching band members experiencing heat-related illnesses, but no one’s pulled together a comprehensive study of how often those illnesses occur, what the affected students were doing,” said Andrew Grundstein, a professor at the University of Georgia’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
Working with Rashawn Merchant, an undergraduate in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and lead author of the study, Grundstein and his team set out to fill that gap.
Published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, this study analyzed news reports of band members suffering heat-related illnesses from 1990 to 2020 and found almost 400 band students who overexerted themselves and became ill due to heat exposure. About half of these students were treated on-site and didn’t require hospitalization, but 44% wound up in the hospital for treatment before being released the same day. The others suffered from heatstroke, requiring more than just one day in the hospital.
“Think about what they do,” said Grundstein, corresponding author of the paper. “They go out there, and they often wear these really heavy wool uniforms. They practice many times for hours and hours outside. Some of them are carrying heavy instruments, and they’re moving around a lot. There are a lot of risk factors that come into play for marching band members that people generally don’t really think about.”
Because the study relied on data from news reports, the number of total cases is likely an underestimate.
“This is a bare minimum of cases, but it still shows a real problem,” Grundstein said. “In sports, you have an athletic trainer or coaches who receive some training in heat safety. They’re keeping an eye on the athletes to make sure they’re doing OK, and they’re trained to spot problems. But the music director of a marching band probably hasn’t had that training.”
To better protect students, schools and organizations can implement similar guidelines to those used in the sports world. Things like giving students more breaks, encouraging them to drink water throughout practice to stay hydrated, and letting them wear lighter-weight clothing for practices would make a big difference.
“Our paper can raise awareness about this problem so that officials can come up with better safety policies so that we’re more prepared for the future.”