Good News, Bad News For Heavy College Football Players

Football linemenMadison, Wisconsin – Obese collegiate football players may be healthier than they look. That’s according to a recent study led by Dr. David Bernhardt, professor of pediatrics at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.


The study, which appears in the May 2011 edition of the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, shows that overweight or obese linemen may have fewer cardiovascular risk factors than their sedentary peers, but their risk for type 2 diabetes may be the same.


Dr. Bernhardt and his colleagues recruited 30 linemen for the study from the UW- Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-Whitewater football teams and compared them to a group of sedentary peers of similar age and body mass index - a widely used estimation of adult obesity.


The study's objective was to investigate the relationship between fitness, obesity, and the risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Researchers compared the participants’ glucose, insulin and lipid profiles, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides.


The study showed that the group of athletes had a significantly lower percentage of body fat (21.8 percent) compared to their sedentary peers (27.1 percent) and had an overall healthier risk profile, including improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels.


"When we screen the athletic population for health risks, it's clear that we need to consider their fitness level and body fat percentage rather than just their BMI," said Dr. Bernhardt. "Our research strongly suggests that BMI alone is not an accurate predictor of obesity and the associated health risks in athletic populations."


However, the study did not indicate a significant difference in metabolic risk factors - such as fasting glucose and insulin levels - between the athletic and sedentary groups. As a result, Dr. Bernhardt cautions that heavier athletes who engage in a lot of physical activity and have reduced body fat should not be exempt from undergoing routine screening for metabolic or cardiovascular risks.


"Even though football players have reduced some of their risk factors, they are still at higher risk because of their increased size," Bernhardt says. "Later in life, they may become candidates for long-term diet or medical interventions to further reduce their risk factors."


The study was supported by a grant from the UW Sports Medicine Classic Research Fund.

Date Published: 06/09/2011

News tag(s):  sports medicine

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