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Weight Gain and Health Affliction Among Former National Football League Players

      Abstract

      Background

      Professional American-style football players are among the largest athletes across contemporary sporting disciplines. Weight gain during football participation is common, but the health implications of this early-life weight gain remain incompletely understood. We sought to define weight trajectories of former professional American-style football athletes and to establish their relationship with 5 common health afflictions (cardiovascular disease, cardiometabolic disease, neurocognitive impairment, sleep apnea, and chronic pain).

      Methods

      A health survey was distributed to former National Football League (NFL) players. Former players reported body weight at 4 time points (high school, college, professional, and time of survey response) as well as maximal retirement weight. Logistic regression was used to assess associations between weight gain during football participation and health affliction.

      Results

      In this cohort of former NFL players (n = 3,506, age 53 ± 14 years), mean weight increase from high school to time of survey response was 40 ± 36 pounds, with the majority of weight gain occurring during periods of football participation (high-school-to-college and college-to-professional). The prevalence of health afflictions ranged from 9% (cardiovascular disease) to 28% (chronic pain). Weight gain during football participation was independently associated with risk of multiple later-life health afflictions in models adjusted for football exposure, lifestyle variables, and post-career weight gain.

      Conclusions

      Early-life weight gain among American-style football athletes is common and is associated with risk of adverse health profiles during later-life. These findings establish football-associated weight gain as a key predictor of post-career health and raise important questions about the central role of targeted weight gain in this population.

      Keywords

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