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Risks for Football Players Go Beyond Impact

by User Not Found | Aug 01, 2011
Diabetes, heart disease among long-term threats to linemen

INDIANAPOLIS – Linemen in college football shield the quarterback from would-be tacklers, but what’s to protect these burly linemen from health threats associated with their size? Exercise alone won’t do it, according to new research from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Two-thirds of Division I linemen studied were obese, putting them at significant risk for metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance compared with players at other positions. High levels of physical activity—shown to help prevent obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases—weren’t enough to counteract the health threats brought on by the linemen’s weight and lifestyle factors, researchers found. The study is the first to report on the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance in a large cohort of Division I collegiate football players.

“These findings are consistent with a recent study showing retired NFL linemen were twice as likely to develop metabolic syndrome as players of other positions,” said lead researcher James R. Borchers, M.D., MPH. “Given the serious health consequences of these conditions, we need to study college football players over time—and we need to counsel them about managing their health risks.”

Borchers pointed out that, while this study revealed similarities between Division I linemen and their professional NFL counterparts, the comparison may not apply to football players at Division II and Division III schools.

The study measured 90 football players, grouping them according to positions played. Group A comprised offensive and defensive linemen; Group B included wide receivers and defensive backs, and Group C consisted of tight ends, linebackers, quarterbacks, punters and kickers. Participants were measured for body composition, blood pressure, insulin level, cholesterol and other factors. Eight percent were overweight (20-25 percent body fat) and 21 percent (all linemen) were obese, with at least 25 percent body fat. Twenty-one percent of participants were found to have insulin resistance, a condition associated with coronary artery disease and diabetes.

Forty-two percent of obese participants had metabolic syndrome, defined as showing abnormality in at least three of the following five measures:

  • Triglyceride
  • HDL-C
  • Abdominal obesity
  • Glucose
  • Blood pressure

Metabolic syndrome is thought by some to be a more important risk factor than tobacco use in the future development of coronary artery disease. While high levels of physical activity are known to reduce the rate of metabolic syndrome among adolescents, the relationship between activity and metabolic syndrome in obese individuals is unclear. Today’s Division I football players have significantly higher body fat and total body mass than their counterparts of the 1980s and ‘90s, giving rise to additional concerns about their long-term health.


The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 35,000 international, national, and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

NOTE: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® is the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and is available from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins at 1-800-638-6423. For a complete copy of the research paper (Vol. 41, No. 12, pages 2105-2110) or to speak with a leading sports medicine expert on the topic, contact the Department of Communications and Public Information at 317-637-9200 ext. 133 or 127. Visit ACSM online at

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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