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Health & Well-Being Initiative

Projects funded by Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative announce progress and findings

Dec 13, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO - Several research projects funded by the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative (SAHWBI) announced progress and findings today. A key pillar of the initiative, the Pac-12 Research Grant Program funds over one million dollars annually in research conducted on member university campuses (note: the grant program did not fund its typical amount during the 2020-21 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Projects focusing on head trauma, mental health, coach health education, overuse injuries and injury surveillance, and more are all in progress from past funding cycles. 

Created in 2013, the Pac-12 Grant Program is part of the overall Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative. The initiative is a collective effort between Pac-12 member universities to find ways to reduce injuries, share current best practices and latest studies, and conduct research to uncover new ways to keep student-athletes as safe as possible. The Grant Program has made it a priority to fund cutting-edge research by pooling the collective expertise of its membership, which comprises some of the foremost research institutions in the world.

In addition to findings & progresses related to Pac-12-funded research, the Pac-12 SAHWBI has also seen a number of recent notable publications, including "Surveillance testing for SARS-COV-2 infection in an asymptomatic athlete population," related to COVID-19 testing conducted by Pac-12 universities and the Pac-12's partnership with Quidel, as well as "Pac-12 CARE-Affiliated Program: structure, methods and initial results," related to research surrounding sports-related concussions.

To learn more about the Pac-12 SAHWBI, including information on research grant awardee accomplishments, publications and previously announced project findings, visit

For the most recent findings from funded research projects, see below:

Health and Wellness: Assessing Student-Athlete and Performance
PI: Dr. William Byrnes
Co-PIs: Dr. Theresa Hernandez & Dr. Ken Wright
University of Colorado
Project Summary: This project proposes a comprehensive approach to optimize the academic, athletic, health, and wellness experience of student-athletes. Specifically, the project seeks to assess important indicators of student-athlete health and wellness, integrate key information within the Pac-12 Sports Injury Registry Management and Analytics Program, and implement and disseminate important best practices for sustainable student-athlete training and performance throughout the Pac-12.
Key Findings & Progress
  • This project has focused on identifying, disseminating and implementing important best practices for sustainable student-athlete training and performance.
  • By pooling a team of professionals across multiple disciplines (sports medicine, neuroscience, epidemiology, sleep physiology & exercise physiology) the work has produced 13 presentations at national scientific meetings and seven manuscripts, including two published, one currently under review by peer-reviewed scientific journals and four more currently in development.
  • These presentations and manuscripts highlight the research project’s progress in how training, competition, travel and academics affect mood, sleep, blood volume and biomarkers among varsity student athletes.
  • These research studies enrolled 212 varsity student athletes (95 males & 117 females) from alpine/nordic skiing, cross country, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, tennis & volleyball plus 238 non-varsity student controls (88 males & 150 females).
Pac-12 Student-Athlete Project on Developing Coach Education
PIs: Dr. Kim Harmon & Dr. Emily Kroshus
Co-PIs: Dr. Sara Chrisman (UW) & Dr. Ann Glang (UO)
University of Washington collaborating with University of Oregon
Project Summary: This project aims to develop evidence-based, easily scalable educational programs for college coaches about topics related to student-athlete health and safety, beginning with concussions.
Key Findings & Progress
  • This project set out to design coach concussion education tailored to the needs of Pac-12 coaches, conducting qualitative interviews with coaches at two Pac-12 universities and working with coaches and medical staff to refine the final platform: GoHuddle.
  • The platform, GoHuddle, was then tested using a pre-post study with over 300 coaches across five Pac-12 universities, and found that coaches were twice as likely to discuss the importance of reporting concussion symptoms with their student-athletes, which iis the target behavior for this project.
  • The project will next look to test GoHuddle with a larger sample size, while also developing pathways to ensure the sustainability of this approach.
Student-Athlete Well-Being: Social Media Engagement and Mental Health in Pac-12 Student-Athletes
PIs: Dr. Christopher Barry
Co-PIs: Dr. Kelli Moran-Miller (Stanford)
Washington State University collaborating with Arizona State University, University of California, Berkeley, Oregon State University, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Southern California, University of Utah and University of Washington
Project Summary: By investigating the relationship between social media activity, self-perception and mental health among Pac-12 student-athletes, this project seeks to gain a better understanding of both the detrimental and positive aspects of student-athletes’ social media use, as well as the potential benefits of protective behavioral strategies involving social media (e.g., turning off electronic devices at night or restricting social media access during study time). The findings will seek to provide improved abilities to educate student-athletes on adaptive uses of social media and bolster their academic, mental health, physical and personal well-being.
Key Findings & Progress
This study examined the relationship between social media engagement and well-being (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness) among Pac-12 student-athletes.
  • The first phase of the study involved 813 participants across seven Pac-12 universities.
    • Overall screen time and actual time spent on social media applications was not related to mental health or well-being in student-athletes. Rather, use of social media during daily activities and perceptions that social media interfered with well-being and relationships was connected to greater loneliness, distress, sleep dissatisfaction and fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • A total of 246 student-athletes participated in the second phase of the study which included baseline data collection using the same methods as Phase 1, a brief intervention one week later suggesting strategies (e.g., turning off notifications, turning off device to study) for reducing stress & distraction from social media, and follow-up data collection one month later. 
    • Because baseline data were collected in early Spring 2020, the follow-up data collection happened to occur after COVID-19-related shutdowns, including the cancellation of remaining sports seasons.  Student-athlete screen time increased substantially from baseline to follow-up, but loneliness, stress, and anxiety decreased. 
  • Screen time again was not related to mental health or well-being. The results suggest:
    • A person’s mindset about social media is more relevant to well-being than the specific quantity of use and;
    • In general, student-athletes responded well in the immediate aftermath of Spring 2020 COVID-19-related shutdowns.
Mental Health and Head Trauma: Brain Health in Male and Female Basketball Student-Athletes at the University of Utah
PI: Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Tood
Co-PIs: Dr. Charlie Hicks-Little, Dr. Perry Renshaw, Dr. Erin McGlade & Dr. Andrew Prescot
University of Utah
Project Summary: There is a need to better define the neurobiological, cognitive, and behavior changes in competitive athletes prone to head injury both pre- and post-injury. The aim of this study is to assess the association between concussive symptoms, mood states, cognitive performance, and brain changes in female and male basketball student-athletes and football student-athletes.
Key Findings & Progress
The overall goal of this project was to evaluate the association between behavioral states, imaging-based brain measures, and neurocognition as they predict current and future wellness in college athletes.
  • The project’s first goal was to determine whether imaging endpoints based on three imaging modalities (structural MRI, functional MRI, and MR spectroscopy) and clinical measures would be altered in student-athletes compared to non-athlete students.
  • Men and women participating in basketball and football and non-athlete students completed multimodal-magnetic resonance imaging and a clinical and neurocognitive assessment battery at baseline enrollment (pre-season) and follow up.
  • Overall the imaging findings in student-athletes indicate unique patterns of brain connectivity and brain metabolism that vary by mood by sport and by sex.
  • Additional changes were observed over pre and post season time periods. In vivo brain metabolites were correlated with depression and history of concussion, brain volume changes both increased and decreased over time suggesting neuroplastic changes, and brain connectivity increased over time potentially related to repeated use.
  • Additional analyses of this data are ongoing and expected to provide new insights into brain health and mood and well-being.
Mental Health: #DamWorthIt Campaign
PIs: Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten
Oregon State University
Project Summary: The Dam Worth It Campaign, which was launched at Oregon State University in 2017, has the mission of utilizing the influential platform of sport to end the stigma around mental health in collegiate athletics. Dam Worth It is designed to be a comprehensive program that works to address mental health stigma through three pillars: education, resources, and awareness. This has consisted of initiatives such as hosting suicide prevention training workshops, providing access to online mental health platforms, and the execution of annual “Dam Worth It Games” for every sports team at Oregon State University. The focus of this grant project was to expand Dam Worth It’s mission throughout Pac-12 Conference Athletic Departments and Student-Athlete Advisory Committees.
Key Findings & Progress: The purpose of this project was to evaluate the current climate of mental health across the Pac-12 conference from the perspectives of both athletes and institutional staff, with the goal of simultaneously spreading awareness around mental health through Dam Worth It’s peer-to-peer model.
  • The project surveyed over 600 student-athletes and 400 Pac-12 staff members.
  • Data revealed that student-athletes are not protected from the impacts of mental health, with their levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide being strikingly prevalent.
  • 75% of student-athletes surveyed agreed with the statement, “during your time in college, has stress ever made it hard to function in everyday life?”
  • 20% of student-athletes reported that they have seriously considered suicide, and 4.3% of student-athletes disclosed that they have attempted suicide at some point in their life.
  • Results showed a desire by both student-athletes and athletic department staff for more mental health resources, as well as a need for stigma reduction with 49% of student-athletes reporting that there was a stigma surrounding mental health on their campus.
  • Utilizing funds from the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health & Well-Being Grant Program, Dam Worth It at Oregon State University created a model for a positive and impactful mental health campaign that can be applied at any university across the country.
Head Trauma: Roles of Nutritive Support and Supplementation
PI: Dr. George Brooks
Co-PI: Dr. Daniela Kaufer
University of California, Berkeley
Project Summary: Studies have shown that the brain uses lactate as a fuel source when available. Studies have also shown that patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are often undernourished, meaning the brain has less fuel sources to use for healing. The goal of this project is to determine whether or not supplementation with lactate on the background of adequate nutrition will improve TBI recovery by giving the brain an extra fuel source. This will be accomplished through a series of studies on laboratory rats, where rats with mild TBIs that mimic concussions will be given standard of care (inadequate) nutrition, adequate nutrition, and adequate nutrition plus extra lactate. Brain healing will be assessed to see if appropriate nutrition with and without lactate supplementation improves recovery time and outcomes.
Key Findings & Progress
  • From collaborative studies in the neuro-intensive care units at UCLA, this study discovered that while brain glucose uptake is impaired following Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), brain lactate uptake is unimpaired and was actually the preferred fuel favored by uninjured and injured brains.
  • The study then employed an animal (rat) model to better understand the metabolic consequences of injury and the pathways to recovery.
  • With support from the Pac-12, this project developed several sets of methods and procedures to evaluate whether and how post-injury nutritive support could improve outcomes following brain injury. The procedures developed were:
    • A Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI) method of assessing brain damage after injury, rigged to reliably deliver Closed Head Traumatic Brain injuries (CHTBI) in freely rotating animals as an American football player might suffer;
    • High-speed filmography to evaluate the kinetics of injury;
    • Measures of glucose metabolism and protein synthesis using heavy water (D2O);
    • Motor as well as behavioral outcome tests that included: beam walking, inverted hang time, Barnes Maze Test, and Light Aversion Test.
  • Studies were interrupted due to wildfires, power outages, facility closures and environmental stresses to research animals and investigators alike.
  • In the end there was sufficient statistical power to assert that adequate nutrition improved learning and memory (Barnes Test) and photosensitivity (Light Aversion Test).
  • Variances in the data precluded reaching conclusions about the interactive effects of brain injury and post-injury nutrition on gluconeogenesis and motor performance. Because D2O labels synthetic pathways, work continues to determine the effect of nutrition on synthesis rates of brain metabolic proteins involved in recovery from injury.
Injury Surveillance: Scaling Up Student-Athlete Exposure Tracking Using PacTrac
PI: Dr. Marc Norcross
Co-PIs: Dr. Samuel Johnson (OSU) and Dr. Christopher Scaffidi (OSU)
Oregon State University collaborating with Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles and University of Washington
Project Summary: After a prior grant project developed PacTrac, a web-based application system that allows athletic trainers (ATs) to capture detailed athletic exposures to evaluate injury rate data, it was determined that the level of detail in which exposure is reported can influence injury rate estimates, and that the feasibility of collecting the most detailed exposure information varied across AT staffing, sport and schools. The objectives of the proposal were to scale PacTrac for use conference-wide, engage stakeholders to develop conference-wide minimum exposure reporting standards for each sport, and assess the implementation feasibility of those standards using PacTrac. The successful completion of the project has provided the Conference and its member schools with the flexible exposure reporting system needed to harness the full potential of the Pac-12’s Health Analytics Program (HAP) to support local and conference-wide improvements in student-athlete health and wellness. 
Key Findings & Progress 
The Pac-12 (HAP) utilizes a robust infrastructure for recording health and wellness information of student-athletes across the 12 member-institutions in a common electronic medical record (EMR) system. While the use of this system to prospectively collect detailed health-related information for student-athletes in all sports across all institutions alone would make it one of the most comprehensive injury surveillance systems in collegiate athletics, the power of the HAP has been exponentially improved through the conference’s development and integration of PacTrac into the conference-wide EMR.  
  • During the first two years of this project, PacTrac - a web-based athletic exposure reporting application - was fully developed and the research team worked with athletic trainers across the Pac-12 to determine the level of detail (e.g., minutes of activity for each athlete each day) that could feasibly be reported for different sports by athletic trainers.  
  • The PacTrac technology was then integrated into the existing HAP EMR and a multi-layered training and quality assurance plan was implemented conference-wide during this past year.  
  • As a result of the successful completion of this research project, a robust, yet flexible exposure reporting system has been integrated into the HAP and began being used conference-wide for all sports in July 2021.  
  • The exposure information, when coupled with the breadth of student-athlete health information to which it is linked, provides the conference with an unparalleled capability to answer questions that can inform practices and policies to improve student-athlete health and wellness. 
Overuse Injuries/Injury Prevention: A Prospective Study to Improve Bone Health and Reduce Incidence of Bone Stress Injuries in Pac-12 Female Distance Runners
PI: Dr. Michael Fredericson
Co-PI: Dr. Aurelia Nattiv (UCLA)
Stanford University collaborating with University of California, Los Angeles
Project Summary: The primary objective of this project is to improve the health of female collegiate distance runners, reduce the incidence and severity of bone stress injuries, and shorten recovery time. This will be accomplished with an active nutrition education program emphasizing the achievement of positive energy balance measured by increasing energy intake and/or reducing exercise energy expenditure.
Key Findings & Progress
Bone stress injury (BSI) is a debilitating injury common among track and field athletes, occurring from repetitive bone loading. NCAA runners are at high risk for BSI; in one study, 20% of collegiate runners reported at least one-or-more BSIs, and in this project’s historical cohort, BSI's were documented in up to 38% of female distance runners.
  • This study to improve bone health and reduce the incidence of BSIs represents one of the most extensive prospective studies of BSIs in male and female runners to date.
  • A nutritional education intervention was utilized at Stanford and UCLA and compared BSIs in a pilot (2014-2016) and intervention phase (2017-2020) to a historical cohort (2011-2013). UCLA had already implemented many of the intervention components prior to the start of the study.
  • A steady year-to-year decline for Stanford's men and women in both the pilot and intervention phases was observed.
  • The rate of trabecular BSIs (femoral neck, sacral, pelvic) was halved for women at both Stanford and UCLA from historical to intervention phase.
  • The study observed that impacting team culture was paramount for intervention success.
  • At Stanford and UCLA, team conversations surrounding the importance of optimizing nutrition, improving performance, and prioritizing longevity in sport were more impactful than discussing injury prevention.
  • Next, the project investigators are in the process of expanding this nutritional intervention study to the entire Pac-12, with a focus on impacting team culture and building open dialogue about adequate fueling to reduce BSI incidence.