Jockeys damage bones with strict dieting: study

Strict body weight restrictions and pre-race dieting are damaging the bones of Australian jockeys, new research shows.


Researchers assessed the bone density of 25 apprentice jockeys in Canberra, Port Macquarie and Tamworth and found they had weaker bones compared to the average population, even after adjusting for differences in weight and height.

Lead researcher Dr David Greene, from the Australian Catholic University, said the findings were of particular concern because of the strain endured by riders on the track.

"Apprentice jockeys are certainly engaging in high risk and highly-injurious activity," said Dr Greene, from the university’s Centre of Physical Activity Across the Lifespan.

"Couple that with low body weight and, in some cases compromised nutrition, then sadly you have the prospect of sub-optimal bone health."

Dr Greene said to maintain the required weight for racing some apprentice jockeys stopped eating and drinking two days before each race day.

The researchers have recommended providing apprentice jockeys further education about their dietary habits and plan to investigate the benefits of calcium supplementation in the profession.

"We need to remedy this situation because these young jockeys will also be paying for this deficit later in life," Dr Greene said.

"Bones are like superannuation. You need to get as much bone in the bank by the time you’re 25 then you rely on that supply to get you through life."

The study, presented at an international racing conference in Turkey this week, contained better news on jockeys’ psychological health.

An assessment of mental health found they displayed significantly greater coping skills, resilience and wellbeing, and were less anxious compared to a control group.

This is in contrast to a recent Australian Jockeys’ Association survey of 334 jockeys which showed that depression affects 39 per cent of riders, with three-quarters going untreated.

NSW Racing training manager Maurice Logue said the latest results were valuable for the future of the industry.

"Apprentice jockeys are vital to our field, and we want to do all we can to promote their health, wellbeing and career longevity," he said.

By Tamara McLean