Context: Sudden death in sport at the high school and collegiate levels has been described extensively in the literature. However, few epidemiologic data exist on the incidence of sudden death specifically in American youth sport before secondary school athletics.
Objective: To describe the epidemiology of sudden death in organized youth sports in the United States from 2007 through 2015.
Design: Descriptive epidemiology study.
Setting: Organized American youth sports.
Patients or other participants: Cases of sudden death that occurred in youth athletes 17 years of age and younger in non-high school organized sports were included.
Data collection and analysis: Information on sudden deaths between August 1, 2007, and December 31, 2015, was obtained via LexisNexis and other publicly available news or media reports. Total youth sport participation rates from 2007 to 2015 were provided by the Sport & Fitness Industry Association. Athlete age, sex, sport, level of play, event type, date of death, setting, and official and speculated causes of death were examined. Data are presented as deaths per year, percentage of total sudden deaths, and deaths per 10 million participants.
Results: From 2007 to 2015, 45 sudden deaths were reported in American youth sports. The mean age of patients was 13 ± 2 years. The overall incidence rate was 1.83 deaths/10 million athlete-years. Males experienced a greater number of sudden deaths than females (n = 36/45, 80%). Basketball had the highest number of sudden deaths from 2007 to 2015, with a total of 16 occurrences. The most frequent cause of sudden death was cardiac related (n = 34/45, 76%). Most sudden deaths occurred during practices (n = 32/45, 71%).
Conclusions: Sudden deaths in organized youth sports in the United States from 2007 through 2015 were most often experienced during practices by males, were cardiac related, and occurred while playing basketball. These findings are similar to those in high school and collegiate sports. This study affirms the need for further epidemiologic research into sudden deaths at the organized youth sport level.
Keywords: catastrophic injury; injury surveillance; pediatric sports medicine; sport safety.