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Size of athletes could mean future health problems

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Big athletes, especially football players are sought after. A new study shows that big size, especially among football players, could mean future health problems. The study builds on past media reports suggesting that football players are twice as likely to die before age 50, compared to baseball players. The larger size of athletes that can lead to future health problems is linked to the development of cardiometabolic syndrome.

The study, presented at the 74th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) in San Diego is the first to explore the health risks among younger athletes for the future development of cardiometabolic syndrome.

According to study author Dr. Michael Selden, “We expect professional athletes to be in peak physical condition given the demands of their jobs and the amount of time they spend exercising heavily. However, there does not seem to be a complete protective effect of exercise, particularly among the larger athletes – football linemen. Instead, the impact of their sheer size may outweigh the positive benefits of exercise to mitigate their risk for cardiometabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease, and insulin resistance."

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The researchers collected health information in 69 current professional football linemen, and 155 professional baseball players. Included were blood pressures, fasting glucose levels, triglycerides, waist circumference, HDL (the good) cholesterol, BMI, waist-to-height ratio, insulin resistance and serum blood levels of the enzyme alanine aminotransferase that could indicate fatty liver disease.

Compared to professional baseball players, football players were found to have overall higher blood sugar levels, increased waist circumference, greater waist-to-height ratios, and increased body mass index – all of which can set the stage for the athletes to experience future health problems.

Study co-author Dr. John Helzberg, FACG says, athletes, especially football players at risk for future problems from cardiometabolic syndrome "… can undergo dietary and possibly medical interventions to reduce their risk, particularly after they stop playing when their risk would be expected to rise with increased age and presumed decreased exercise." He also says the study challenges the notion that you can be “fat and fit”. A study published 2007 in JAMA looked at 3,683 high school football linemen - 45 percent were overweight and 9 percent of the football players fell into the category of severe obesity, showing that the next generation of big athletes could also be at risk for future health problems.

American College of Gastroenterology