Professional football players with a high body mass index are more than two times as likely to have high blood pressure as other average-sized men their age, raising their risk for cardiovascular disease even though some of them might fare better on other health indicators, according to a new National Football League-sponsored study published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
For the study, lead author Andrew Tucker — a team physician for the Baltimore Ravens — and colleagues compared the 2007 health records of 504 NFL players with the health data of nearly 2,000 non-playing men from a separate study. The average age of the NFL players and the non-players was 27. Among the players were 200 of the largest-sized football players, including offensive and defensive linemen, and 100 comparatively leaner players, including quarterbacks, kickers and wide receivers.
Nearly 58% of the players had a BMI of at least 30 and were considered obese. All 109 offensive linemen in the study had BMIs in the obesity range, compared with 16% of men in the non-player group. The study found that 14% of the NFL players had high blood pressure, compared with 6% of non-players. Among the largest players with BMIs in the obesity range, about 90% had high blood pressure or pre-hypertension. Forty-two percent of the 109 biggest players had unhealthy levels of HDL, or "good," cholesterol and 22% had high triglycerides. Among both players and non-players, about 8% had high levels of LDL, or "bad," cholesterol and about 13% had high triglycerides.
According to the AP/Inquirer, the NFL and the study’s authors downplayed the negative findings, but Tucker noted that the findings on blood pressure were unexpected. He said the league is trying to determine what might cause the high rate, such as diet, weightlifting or use of painkillers that previously have been linked to the condition. An abstract of the study is available online.