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Thread: Data suggest obesity is rampant in NFL; league calls study bogus

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    Dunnilicious creek14's Avatar
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    Data suggest obesity is rampant in NFL; league calls study bogus

    By LINDSEY TANNER
    AP Medical Writer
    Published March 1, 2005

    It's no secret that size matters in the National Football League, but a new study suggests that a whopping 56 percent of NFL players would be considered obese by some medical standards.

    The NFL called the study bogus for using players' body-mass index, a height-to-weight ratio that doesn't consider body muscle versus fat. The players' union said that despite the familiar sight of bulging football jerseys, there's no proof that obesity is rampant in the league.

    But former defensive tackle John Jurkovic said he's seen plenty of evidence that players have gotten not just bigger but sometimes fatter, "big as houses" in recent years because of league pressure to intimidate opponents and win.

    "The NFL teams want it because it's working," said Jurkovic, who played for Green Bay, Cleveland and Jacksonville before retiring in 2000.

    The theory is that bigger men, especially linemen and defensive players, are better blockers and harder to move.

    But the study results suggest that bigger players don't make a team more successful. There was no relationship between teams' average player BMI and their ranking in 2003-04, the season studied. Arizona had the highest average BMI but also the worst record in its division.

    In the study, University of North Carolina endocrinologist Dr. Joyce Harp and student Lindsay Hecht used statistics on the NFL Web site to calculate BMIs for 2,168 NFL players, nearly all those playing in the 2003-04 season.

    Almost all the players qualified as overweight, and 56 percent had BMIs of at least 30 what doctors consider obese. For example, a 6-foot-2 man weighing 235 has a BMI of just over 30. Nearly half of the obese players were in the severely obese range, with a BMI of at least 35, and a small percentage were morbidly obese with a BMI of at least 40.

    Harp acknowledged that without measuring body composition, it's uncertain how many players were truly fat, but she said it's unlikely the high BMIs were "due to a healthy increase in muscle mass alone."

    "The high number of large players was not unexpected, given the pressures of professional athletes to increase their mass. However, it may not be without health consequences," the researchers wrote, citing previous studies that documented obesity-related problems, including sleep apnea and high blood pressure in NFL players.

    The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

    While the study methods were not very scientific, players' growing girth "is a major concern," said Dr. Arthur Roberts, a former NFL quarterback and retired heart surgeon whose Living Heart Foundation works with the players' union to evaluate heart-related health risks faced by current and retired players.

    "These larger body sizes are generally associated with greater cardiovascular risks," Roberts said.

    The increasing emphasis on size may be a bad influence on "all the young kids that play football around the country ... and are trying to be like their heroes," Roberts said.

    Players' union spokesman Carl Francis said health and safety are "discussed all the time," and that while some players likely are obese, it's not a major problem.

    NFL spokesman Greg Aiello called the study substandard and said there's no proof obesity is worse in the NFL than in U.S. society in general, where about 30 percent of adults are obese, based on BMI data. "This was not a serious medical study," he said.

    Dr. Brian Cole of Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, an orthopedic surgeon who works with the Arena Football League, also questioned the study methods and said some teams list inaccurately high weights to appear more intimidating.

    "While clearly there are pressures for increased size" in professional football, relying on published height and weight data but not physical exams is faulty, he said.

    Julie Burns, a nutritionist who works with the Chicago Bears, said combining BMI data with players' waist measurements is a better fat indicator because some highly conditioned athletes with a high BMI also have a large amount of lean tissue.

    Jurkovic said he weighed 272 in the mid 1990s hefty by any standards on his 6-foot-2 frame but was pressured by a coach to get even bigger and ballooned up to 328. On the BMI scale, that's morbidly obese. Jurkovic said he had already maxed out on weightlifting so he packed on mostly fat by gorging.

    Combined with the physical toll of football, excess weight wears down joints and causes problems as players age and then retire, Jurkovic said. At 37, he now weighs a "chunky" 295 and has ankle problems he blames on football and excess weight.

    "It's tough for the league to police, but I think they should try to police it," he said.

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    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Data suggest obesity is rampant in NFL; league calls study bogus

    Harp acknowledged that without measuring body composition, it's uncertain how many players were truly fat, but she said it's unlikely the high BMIs were "due to a healthy increase in muscle mass alone."
    That's why BMI is a weak measuring tool. It simply measures height vs. weight and doesn't take body fat or muscle mass into account.
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    Re: Data suggest obesity is rampant in NFL; league calls study bogus

    BMI doesn't take body composition into account and is completely worthless in evaluating the health of athletes.

    According to Bengals.com, Rudi Johnson is 5'10" and weighs 233 pounds. That gives him a BMI of 33.4, which is considered obese. Terrell Roberts, at 5'9" and 203 pounds also qualifies as 'obese', clocking in with an even 30.0 BMI. Lightweight defensive tackle Tony Williams qualifies as severely obese with a 38.5 BMI.

    Watch a lockeroom interview with any of those guys and you'll see that all of them are pretty much ripped and carry less than 10% bodyfat. Yet according to BMI, they are no different than the fat schmuck sitting on his couch eating a bag of cheetos while watching the game.

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    Smells Like Teen Spirit jmcclain19's Avatar
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    Re: Data suggest obesity is rampant in NFL; league calls study bogus

    Real Sports on HBO did a a piece a while back on lineman after their playing careers, and had about a handful of guys who can't walk today, and have major health problems after their football career is over, thanks to being in the 6 ft to 6'6 range while carrying 300-400 lbs.

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    Re: Data suggest obesity is rampant in NFL; league calls study bogus

    According to the BMI, at 6'4", I would have to weigh 194lbs to hit the 25 BMI, the top of the "normal" range. Now I know I'm overweight at 250, but at 194lbs, I'd be Ichabod Crane.
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    Rally Onion! Chip R's Avatar
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    Re: Data suggest obesity is rampant in NFL; league calls study bogus

    Quote Originally Posted by jmcclain19
    Real Sports on HBO did a a piece a while back on lineman after their playing careers, and had about a handful of guys who can't walk today, and have major health problems after their football career is over, thanks to being in the 6 ft to 6'6 range while carrying 300-400 lbs.
    I would think those people are what this study is most concerned about. Of course guys who play the skill positions like LB or safety or running back are going to be muscularly big but these guys are not fat by any stretch of the imagination. But they - and especially the linemen - are carrying more weight on a body that maybe shouldn't carry that much weight be it fat or muscle. The heart is still going to be working just as hard if a guy is 5 ft 10 and weighs 250 lbs no matter if he's a couch potato or a star running back. And it's going to be tough for these guys to lose that weight once they no longer are players. We all know it's easier to gain weight than it is to lose it. It is somewhat remarkable to see how players have gotten bigger over the years. Back in the 60s and 70s you could be a good offensive lineman and still weigh under 250 lbs. Now you almost have to weigh 300 lbs. And some of these defensive linemen weigh around 400 lbs.
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