From Our 2005 Archives
Many NFL Players Fatter Than Couch Potatoes
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1 in 4 NFL Players Classified as Extremely Obese
Michael Smith, MD
March 1, 2005 - Professional football players may be twice as likely to be considered obese as armchair quarterbacks.
Researchers found more than half of National Football League (NFL) players were obese according to their body mass index (BMI). Only about a quarter of other men in the same age group were obese.
In addition, more than a quarter of NFL players were classified as extremely obese (known as class 2 obesity).
BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height and is used to indicate body fat. However, BMI is a bit controversial. It can appear elevated in very muscular people. For instance, bodybuilders with a very low body-fat percentage often have a BMI in the obese range.
However, the researchers say that it's unlikely that the high BMIs of NFL players, especially those in the extremely obese range, were due to healthy muscle mass.
For most people, even fit people, BMI is a good indicator of health. Multiple studies have shown that people with a BMI over 25 are more likely to get life-threatening illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Calculators are available to determine your BMI.
But some research indicates that waist size may be a better indicator of health than BMI.
NFL Players Pack on Pounds
According to the National Institutes of Health, the following BMI ranges are used to indicate normal weight, overweight, and obesity:
In their study, which appears in the March 2 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers obtained the weights, heights, and positions for active NFL players in the 2003-2004 season from the official NFL web site.
Data were available for 2,168 NFL players; researchers calculated the BMI for each player and team.
More than 56% of the NFL players had a BMI over 30, which classifies them as obese. That's double the percentage of obese men in the U.S. aged 20-39 years, according to a national survey (56% vs. 23%).
In addition, more than a quarter of those players had a BMI over 35, which classifies them as extremely obese and at very high risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Cornerback-defensive backs had the lowest BMI, on average, and guards had the highest average BMI.
When researchers compared average BMIs across different NFL teams, they found the Arizona Cardinals had the highest team BMI (32.2) and the Tennessee Titans had the lowest (30.5).
Researchers say the high numbers of large NFL players was not a surprise given the pressures of professional athletes to increase their size.
But they say the results suggest that added bulk may not be without health consequences. Previous studies have shown that professional football players with higher BMIs had higher blood pressure than other players and were more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, a condition commonly associated with obesity.
SOURCE: Harp, J. The Journal of the American Medical Association, March 2, 2005; vol 293: pp 1061-1062.
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