Study Suggests Jockeys Have Bone Problems

Preliminary results of an ongoing body-weight study of jockeys in Ireland indicate more than half of the riders studied had osteopenia--the presence of less than normal amount of bone--which if not treated may result in osteoporosis.

Denis Egan, chief executive of the Irish Turf Club, presented the results during the Asian Racing Conference in Seoul, Korea, May 21-27.

"The preliminary results are nothing short of horrific and are indicative of a major problem with jockeys which we must address before it is too late," Egan said.

According to the study conducted with the National Coaching and Training Centre at Limerick University, seven of 13 flat riders (54%) between ages 20 and 39 were osteopenic at the spine, seven of 13 were osteopenic at the hip, and nine were osteopenic at the spine or hip or both.

"Bearing in mind that falls are a regular part of a jockey's life, the presence of osteopenia in so many riders is frightening," Egan said.

The study also assessed jockeys in body fat composition and hydration. The ideal human body-fat composition is 10%. The study showed 11 of 17 jockeys had a body fat composition of 10% or less, and of the 11 riders, four had a composition of 6% or less.

"Athletes who strive to maintain body weight or body fat levels that are inappropriate, or have body fat percentages below minimal, may be at risk for an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, or other health problems related to poor energy or nutrient intake," Egan said.

Twelve of 17 jockeys studied were found to have below-normal hydration levels.

"What is most worrying is that the testing took place on a non racing day," Egan said. "Therefore, jockeys were not required to make weight yet were dehydrated. Some jockeys showed alarmingly high levels of dehydration."

In an associated study by the Irish Turf Club in 2003, seven of 11 jockeys studied were found to be acutely dehydrated. According to a report on the findings, "excessive sweating and/or diuretic usage worsens the severity of traumatic brain injury in jockeys after a fall, which is analogous to not wearing a safety helmet."

Egan concluded it's the duty of racing administrators to educate jockeys on the harm that wasting and dehydration causes, encourage riders to eat healthily, and raise minimum weights.

Currently the weight ranges in Ireland for flat races go from 51 kilograms (112.2 pounds) to 64 kilograms (140.8 pounds).

"It is not beyond the bound of possibility that the minimum weight in the next 10 years will go to 57 kilograms (125.4 pounds)," Egan said.