Stories about: Kathryn Ackerman

Caring for the female athlete: A guide for athletes, parents and coaches

Female-AthleteSince the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, the number of girls competing in high school sports has increased from 295,000 to nearly 3.2 million, and more women are playing collegiate sports than ever before. As these numbers continue to rise, and girls and young women become more empowered through sports, awareness of the health issues specific to female athletes has become increasingly important.

Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, medical director of Boston Children’s Female Athlete Program, and the program’s sports dietitian, Laura Moretti, share need-to-know information and offer strategies to keep young athletes healthy, on and off the field.

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Ask the expert: What is the female athlete triad and how can it be prevented?

Female athlete triad

The spring athletics season is in full swing and for those at the high school and college level, practices and game schedules can be intense. When you blend this physical commitment with the demands of a hectic academic schedule, sometimes maintaining healthy eating habits and positive energy balance can be challenging.

Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, medical director of Boston Children’s Female Athlete Program, shares important information about a condition called the female athlete triad and offers tools to keep young athletes healthy, energized and at the top of their game.

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Can sports make kids smarter?

Was Thomas Jefferson on to something when he quipped, “A strong body makes the mind strong?” It appears so, according to a study of nearly 5,000 British teens. Researchers tracked physical activity and standardized test performance at ages 11, 13 and 16. Overall, kids who were more active achieved higher test scores in English, math and science.

Interestingly, as parents, educators and policymakers lament the lack of women in science, the results indicated a strong link between physical activity and science scores for girls.

The researchers, whose study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, aren’t sure why kids who spent more time sweating outperformed their couch potato peers on academic measures, but suggested that physical activity might increase time on task and curb problem behavior in the classroom.

Kathryn Ackerman, MD, MPH, co-director of the Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Sports Medicine Division, adds another possibility: The structure of sports carries over into other aspects of kids’ lives. Athletic discipline makes for academic discipline.

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The race against the female athlete triad

Laura on the track

It’s a common belief among female runners: The lighter you are, the faster you are. It’s also believed that menstrual irregularities, or loss of periods, are a healthy part of competitive training. Neither is true.

That’s precisely what Laura Duff, a senior at Colby College and an avid runner, wishes she knew when she was in high school.

It was during the summer before Laura’s senior year of high school that she became more aware of how she looked. “I don’t know what switched,” she says, “I just became very aware, and started to restrict my eating and be more controlling.”

“I wish I could tell my high school self that worrying about your body isn’t worth it”

While part of her diet was intentional, another part was simply due to the structure of high school. Long days of classes and cross-country practice with little scheduled time for snacks and lunch made it hard to focus on getting enough calories. Soon, her weight started to drop.

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