HARVARD FOOTBALL PLAYERS HEALTH SURVEY REVEALS THE HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH WEIGHT GAIN

As one of thousands who participated in the ongoing Harvard Football Players Health Survey, some eye-opening research results came out of their first questionnaire. 

The bottom line, as you will see, is that weight gain from high school to college is dangerous, and severely escalates certain health risks, including sleep apnea, heart disease, neurocognitive decline and cardiometabolic (high cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar) conditions. Even more severely escalated are the risks associated with the weight gained from college to the NFL, regardless of current weight. 

Most athletes, at least to a certain degree, gained weight from their high school to college, and from their college to professional careers. While the results of this survey may be alarming, it doesn’t mean that we should go quietly into the night, and accept our fate. Just as you competed for the first 20-40 years of your life, you must continue to compete; this time for the sake of your health. Be proactive. Begin before it’s too late. All that you do now will pay off later. 

From the report:

Our research indicates that former players who experienced substantial weight gain between high school football and professional play may be at a higher risk for later-life disease. Specifically, we found that:
Every 10 pounds of weight gained between college football and professional play increases the risk of sleep apnea by 25%, heart disease by 14%, neurocognitive impairment by 13%, and cardiometabolic conditions by 11%.*
Every 10 pounds of weight gained between high school and college football raises the risk of sleep apnea by 15% and chronic pain and cardiometabolic conditions by 9%.*
Former players gained an average of 40 lbs. between high school football and present day, with the majority of weight gained during the football playing years.
*Heart disease refers to heart attack, stroke, or heart surgery, while cardiometabolic conditions represents high cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar. Neurocognitive impairment refers to a diagnosis of dementia or memory loss.

While past research has demonstrated the consequences of post-career weight gain, this is the first study to show that play-related weight gain may be harmful to former players, regardless of the player’s present-day weight.

Potential Action Steps

If you experienced substantial weight gain over the course of your football career:

Talk with your doctor about getting a comprehensive work-up that includes assessments of your heart, sleep, brain, and metabolic health. This will help you to identify those areas of your health most in need of attention.
Work with your doctor to address any conditions that are treatable. Treating even just one problem, such as sleep apnea, may lead to significant improvements across many areas of your health and better your overall quality of life.
Be proactive about managing those areas of health that screenings or your medical history indicate should be a priority for you. Early intervention is one of the best ways to head off problems before they start.

As action steps to mitigate the damage already sustained, the Harvard Health Study recommends these:

If you experienced substantial weight gain over the course of your football career:

  • Talk with your doctor about getting a comprehensive work-up that includes assessments of your heart, sleep, brain, and metabolic health. This will help you to identify those areas of your health most in need of attention.
  • Work with your doctor to address any conditions that are treatable. Treating even just one problem, such as sleep apnea, may lead to significant improvements across many areas of your health and better your overall quality of life.
  • Be proactive about managing those areas of health that screenings or your medical history indicate should be a priority for you. Early intervention is one of the best ways to head off problems before they start.

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