Dr Arthur Stewart of the Faculty of Health and Social Care has been invited to join an ad-hoc working group of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that offers guidance to help protect the health of elite athletes.
Dr Stewart, who is the Deputy Director of the University's Centre for Obesity Research and Epidemiology (CORE), is one of seven international experts in exercise science and body composition that make up the IOC's ‘Ad-Hoc Research Working Group on Body Composition, Health and Performance.'
The group serves to establish guidance to top-level athletes who may be in danger of undertaking harmful practices to reduce their weight in an attempt to improve their performances in aesthetic, weight-category or gravitational sports.*
Specifically, the IOC working group has been tasked with:
• Identifying medical problems stemming from unhealthy practices in sports such as extremes of underweight, short-term weight loss, dehydration, or other body composition concerns;
• Identifying research needs in the field of body composition, health and performance in sport, aiming to develop the scientific basis upon which strategies for improving the health of athletes can be based;
• Developing suggestions for practical approaches to address body composition issues and problems in sports;
• Seeking to identify criteria and methods to assess risks to athletes' health.
Dr Stewart was nominated to join the group by one of its members, Professor Tim Ackland, the Head of Health Sciences at the University of Western Australia. Dr Stewart hosted Professor Ackland on a visit to Aberdeen in 2004 after the two met at a pre-Olympic conference earlier that year in Greece. Dr Stewart subsequently wrote a chapter on body composition in athletes entitled "Applied Anatomy and Biomechanics in Sport" for Professor Ackland's book, Human Kinetics, 2008.
Dr Stewart met his IOC colleagues from the Body Composition working group (from the USA, Norway, Australia, Austria and the UK) when they convened in October this year at the University of Graz, Austria. Collectively they will write a position statement of key principles relating to sports in which athletes stand a risk of being too light or too thin.
"While the public at large mostly thinks of the IOC Medical Commission's role as implementing the drug testing programme, the role is much wider, and encompasses guidelines for safe exercise practice," stated Dr Stewart.
"For example, in the mid 1990s it was necessary to change the rules of the discipline of ski jumping because athletes were becoming very light and unhealthy to stay in the air longer and 'fly' farther. Our group has the mandate to produce evidence which may be considered if rule changes prove necessary in the future."
Concerning his new position, he concluded, "I am really delighted to be included in this group, with an exciting mandate, which will make a real difference to contemporary practice."
Dr Stewart and his IOC working group colleagues will follow up the initial paper with two further ones: practical guidance on assessing minimum fat levels, and a survey of global practice in assessing body composition in athletes. All three papers will target high impact journals, which will assist in disseminating this information, as well as the Research Excellence Framework 2014 - the new system for assessing the quality of research in higher education institutions in the UK.
Looking to the future, among other ongoing research, he hopes to conduct pilot work with ultrasound and 3D body scanning technology with Professor Ackland and fellow group member Professor Wolfram Muller from the University of Graz. The trio look to share data and consequently work towards a new protocol for assessment.
Notes to editors
* Glossary of terms:
• Aesthetic sports - e.g. rhythmic and acrobatic gymnastics, figure skating, diving, and synchronised swimming.
• Weight-category sports - e.g. wrestling, judo, boxing, light weight rowing, and taekwondo.
• Gravitational sports - e.g. long distance running, triathlon, road cycling, ski jumping, and high jumping.
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