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Monday, January 30, 2012

NFL Players Tackling Heart Disease

Many football players are essentially paid to be big—really big—especially those whose job is to block or stop the big guys on the other team.  They also suffer from medical conditions that are work related and claim medical benefits and other benefits available under the Workers' Compensation Act. 
There is a good chance that these players weigh in at sizes that are classified as obese as defined by body mass index (BMI).  In the general population, high BMI generally correlates with high body fat, and we know that high body fat is a risk factor for death (mortality) and heart disease.  Is the same true for elite athletes, for whom high BMI may relate to increased muscularity rather than increased body fat?  What if the athlete plays a position where size simply matters, regardless of whether size is related to muscle or to body fat?   And what happens when former athletes are no longer conditioning at their playing-day levels?  Do professional football players die earlier than or more often from heart disease or cancer than the average American male?   New research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) helps answer these and other questions.
In 1994, NIOSH published research examining death rates and risk factors for former National Football League (NFL) players.1  At that time the research was based on all deaths that had occurred through 1991.   After following these players for an additional 16 years, NIOSH has just published new researchExternal Web Site Icon. on the topic in the American Journal of CardiologyExternal Web Site Icon..  
The study included 3,439 retired NFL players from the 1959 through 1988 seasons.  The study found that:
  • Players had a much lower overall rate of death compared to men in the general U.S. population of similar age and racial mix. On average, NFL players are actually living longer than the average American male. Out of the 3,439 players in the study, 334 were deceased. Based on estimates from the general population, we anticipated roughly 625 deaths.
  • Players also had a much lower rate of cancer-related deaths compared to the general U.S. population. A total of 85 players died from cancer when we anticipated 146 cancer-related deaths based on estimates from the general population.
  • Players who had a playing-time BMI of 30 or more had twice the risk of death from heart disease compared to other players. Similar findings have been noted in other studies. Offensive and defensive linemen were more likely to have a BMI greater than 30. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese in the general population whereas a healthy BMI is between 18.5-24.9.
  • African American players had a 69% higher risk of death from heart disease compared to Caucasian players.   The study controlled for player size and position and determined that those factors are not the reason for this difference.
  • Defensive linemen had a 42% higher risk of death from heart disease compared to men in the general population. A total of 41 defensive linemen died of heart disease, when we anticipated 29 deaths based on estimates from the general population.  Among the 41 defensive linemen who died of heart disease, 8 deaths were due to cardiomyopathy (a specific kind of heart disease that causes the heart to enlarge and can lead to heart failure). We anticipated fewer than two deaths from cardiomyopathy. We saw this increased risk only among the defensive linemen.
Source The NIOSH Science Blog

Read Also: 
Body Mass Index, Playing Position, Race, and the Cardiovascular Mortality of Retired Professional Football Players
"The initial cohort included 3,732 NFL players but 292 players with unknown race and 1 “player” who was actually a trainer were excluded. By the end of follow-up in 2007, the final cohort of 3,439 players contributed 104,776 person-years at risk and 334 deaths. On average the cohort was followed for 26.8 ± 8.7 years (mean ± SD) after retirement from the NFL. For players still alive, the median age at the study end date was 57 years; 60% of the players were white (including 15 Hispanics) and 39% were African-American..."