Research Finds “Alarming” Rapid Weight Cutting Practices in Youth Combat Sports

Adding to this site’s data base of combat sports safety studies, a recent article was published in latest edition of The Journal of Eating Disorders finding ‘alarming’ weight cutting behaviours that can “have serious ramifications both short- and long-term and even cause death” in youth combat sports athletes.

In the article, titled Patterns of Weight Cycling in Youth Olympic Combat Sports, the authors conducted a systemic review of published research addressing weight cutting practices among minors in Olympic combat sports. These include wrestling, judo, boxing, tae kwon do and karate. The authors found that many youth in these sports cut weight similar to adults. The research showed that Rapid Weight Loss practices are “highly prevalent in children and adolescent combat athletes, ranging from 25 to 94% depending on the type of combat sport, age and level of competition. These athletes regularly prompt RWL by increasing exercise frequency and intensity, decreasing fluid and food intake, training in impermeable suits and using sauna frequently.

The authors noted that “Knowing that childhood and adolescence are critical periods for growth and development, RWL needs to be stringently regulated and ideally banned in this population.”

The authors called for those involved in the sports to put athlete health over perceived competitive advantage through weight cutting with the following comments

until further research answers pertinent questions and revised guidelines for youths are published, parents, practitioners, coaches and adult athletes should take a conservative approach when discussing potential weight management strategies with young combat sports athletes whenever possible, as normal growth and development of these young athletes should be the utmost priority…

It is reasonable for athletes to utilize all legal tools to excel their performance and gain advantage over their opponents, but in the case of RWL/RWG we believe that athletes, parents, coaches and senior athletes should take a conservative approach when discussing weight cutting in the context of young combat athletes whenever possible [41]. The available evidence on RWL in children and adolescents is just starting to emerge and further research that answers pertinent questions and revised guidelines specifically for youth combat sport athletes are needed. Therefore, until more evidence is available, we recommend refraining from interventions aiming to promote weight cycling in young combat sports athletes and focusing on mastering sport-specific skills necessary to excel in a given combat sport...

In summary, we found that RWL and RWG behaviors in youth Olympic combat sport athletes are similar to those in adult combat sport athletes, albeit with a smaller overall magnitude of body mass manipulation. RWL includes potentially harmful methods, some of which have led to previous fatalities and hospitalizations in adult combat sport athletes. We therefore need education and rule-based preventative strategies to avoid perpetuating the cycle of RWL from adolescence into adulthood. The current RWL landscape in youth Olympic combat sport athletes highlights a potential health, safety, and welfare issue, which warrants further investigation


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