THURSDAY, June 21, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Shortfalls in the screening of female college athletes for a trio of medical issues called the "female athlete triad" could put them at risk for lifelong health problems, according to a new study.
The triad refers to the interrelationship between energy availability, menstrual function and bone mineral density. Research has shown that many female athletes do not take in enough nutrition, which leads to the absence of menstrual periods, and loss of bone density and strength.
Medical College of Wisconsin researchers surveyed 257 NCAA Division I universities to find out when and how often athletes underwent physical examinations and had their health histories checked. The researchers also evaluated the pre-participation examination forms used to further assess athletes' health.
Sixty-three percent of the university athletic programs only completed a full medical history and examination on freshmen and transfer athletes, instead of on all athletes every year or every two years.
Only 9 percent of the universities had nine or more of the 12 Female Athlete Triad Coalition screening recommendations on their pre-participation exam forms, the investigators found.
"For an accurate picture, these forms really need to include a 72-hour food record to measure energy intake," corresponding author Dr. Anne Hoch, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of the women's sports medicine program, said in a Medical College of Wisconsin news release.
"An exercise history or an accelerometer, which is an inexpensive way to measure energy expenditure, is also helpful. These screening tools may result in early identification of athletes at risk for the triad," she added.
Further research is required to determine the most sensitive and specific items to include on a screening tool for the Female Athlete Triad, the researchers suggested.
The study was published in a recent online edition of the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
The Nemours Foundation has more about the female athlete triad.