Body mass index, but not sex, influences exertional heat stroke risk in young healthy men and women


Gabrielle E. W. Giersch

Kathryn M. Taylor

Aaron R. Caldwell

Nisha Charkoudian


December 13, 2022

Exertional heat stroke (EHS) remains a persistent threat for individuals working or playing in the heat, including athletes and military and emergency service personnel. However, influence of biological sex and/or body mass index (BMI) on the risk of EHS remain poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to retrospectively assess the influence of sex and BMI on risk of EHS in the active-duty US Army. We analyzed data from 2016 to 2021, using a matched case-control approach, where each individual with a diagnosis of EHS was matched to five controls based on calendar time, unit ID, and job category, to capture control individuals who were matched to EHS events by location, time, and activity. We used a multivariate logistic regression model mutually adjusted for sex, BMI, and age to compare 745 (n = 61 F) individuals (26 ± 7 yr) with a diagnosed EHS to 4,290 (n = 384 F) case controls (25 ± 5 yr). Group average BMI were similar: 26.6 ± 3.1 (EHS) and 26.5 ± 3.6 kg/m2 (CON). BMI was significantly (P < 0.0001) associated with higher risk of EHS with a 3% increase in risk of EHS for every unit increase in BMI. Notably, sex was not associated with any difference in risk for EHS (P = 0.54). These data suggest that young healthy people with higher BMI have significantly higher risk of EHS, but, contrary to what some have proposed, this risk was not higher in young women.