DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I attended high school in a small town where football meant everything. I took a dislike to it because of all the attention it got.

In my senior year, the town’s best player died during a game. I never knew why it happened, but I was struck by the tragedy.

I no longer live in that town. I am married and have a teenage son who is playing high-school football this year.

I can’t get over the memory of what took place in my hometown, and I would very much like it if my son stopped playing this game. My husband says this is silly. Is it? – A.W.

ANSWER:
Sudden death occurs in all athletic events, not just football. I understand how the memory of what happened in your school has lingered with you.

However, the instances of sudden death in all sports are quite low. Estimates place the risk of death somewhere between 1 in 200,000 and 1 in 300,000.

Admittedly, one death is too many, but when you consider the number of deaths at a young age that occur in other circumstances, the number that occurs in football and athletics in general is not great.

Think of how many young people die in car accidents – but you wouldn’t stop your son from riding in a car, would you?

Screening programs exist in just about all high schools to detect conditions that lead to death in young athletes. Aside from injuries that are lethal – and they are few – most deaths come from born-with heart conditions that are undiscovered.

One common one is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited condition where an enlarged heart is susceptible to developing fatal heart rhythms during strenuous exercise.

Doctors who examine young athletes are attuned to such conditions and look carefully for them. Families have important information for those doctors. They should tell their sons and daughters to inform the examining doctor of any premature deaths that have occurred in the mother’s or father’s relatives, and they should insist that their children tell the doctor suspicious symptoms they have had, like fainting or near fainting, chest pain during exercise or extreme shortness of breath when they run short distances.

I would let the boy play and learn to forget the incident that took place during your youth.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My 13-year-old nephews are lifting weights as part of their football preparation. Is this good? I have heard that this could stunt their growth. – M.C.

ANSWER:
It’s good for children of all ages to lift weights.

At one time, experts felt it was a waste of time for prepubertal children to lift weights, since they do not have the muscle-building hormones that come with puberty. However, weightlifting strengthens even young children. They have to be taught how to lift weights, and they should not be allowed to lift heavy weights. Supervision is a must for them.

Teenagers, like your nephews, can be encouraged to lift weights. They too must be taught the proper lifting techniques, and they should not turn the exercise into a contest of who can lift the heaviest weights.

They should lift only the amount of weight they can comfortably handle for three sets of eight consecutive lifts.

What stunts a child’s growth is damage to growth plates. Those plates are sections of the bone that have not yet become bone.

They permit the elongation of bones during growth. Growth plate injury doesn’t take place if some sense is injected into weightlifting.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is basal metabolism? I’m told it’s the number of calories you burn when you sleep. Are calories burned then? How many? – R.K.

ANSWER:
The basal metabolic rate, the same thing as basal metabolism, is the calorie burning that takes place when a person is at complete rest. Sleep qualifies as complete rest. The more muscle tissue a person has, the greater is his or her basal metabolic rate. That’s one reason why well-muscled individuals can eat more without putting on fat. Their muscles are quite active even when they’re at rest.

The basal metabolic rate – the number of calories burned per hour at rest – for a man is 68 and for a woman, 49.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.


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