View Full Version : Experts: Obese NFL players face trouble

08-24-2005, 09:04 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The death of San Francisco 49ers lineman Thomas Herrion after a preseason game comes as little surprise because of his size, obesity experts said Tuesday.

Just last March the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report cautioning about the high rate of obesity among U.S. National Football League players.

Despite careful medical exams and efforts to keep the players physically fit, it is very difficult for someone who weighs so much to be completely healthy, said Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, an obesity expert at Columbia University in New York.

Herrion, 23, collapsed without warning Saturday and the 6-foot-3, 330-pound offensive lineman was pronounced dead at a Denver hospital. Officials are awaiting toxicology results after an autopsy failed to reveal the cause of Herrion's death.

"A sudden death like that in a 23-year-old with no evidence of a stroke would suggest that he had an arrhythmia," Pi-Sunyer said in a telephone interview.

"We do know that he weighed 330 pounds."

That would give Herrion a body mass index of more than 41 -- well into the area considered morbidly obese and thus putting him at high risk of health problems.

Certain athletes with high muscle mass can safely veer into BMIs of between 25 and 30, which would be considered overweight for the average person, but a BMI of 40 or higher cannot be considered anything but risky, experts say.

In March, Joyce Harp of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that more than a quarter of NFL players had a body mass index that qualified as morbidly obese.

The NFL claims Harp's study was flawed.

"The study uses BMI, which does not distinguish between fat and muscle," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said on Tuesday. "Any study that is done without taking into account body fat percentage is misleading."

Harp said it was unlikely the extra weight was due to muscle mass alone.

"The high prevalence of obesity in this group warrants further investigation to determine the short- and long-term health consequences of excessive weight in professional as well as amateur athletics," she wrote in her report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Pi-Sunyer agreed.

"When you get these huge lineman who are weighing 350 pounds ... then the chances are that they have more muscle but they also have significantly more fat," he said.

"We do know that excess fat brings with it certain risks. Included in these risks are primarily diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease."

Also, he said, people with excess fat tend to have higher free fatty acids circulating in the blood.

"There has been some data to suggest that higher circulating free fatty acids could be a risk factor for increased cardiac arrhythmia," Pi-Sunyer said.

"He had just finished playing a vigorous game of football. Possibly, free fatty acid levels, given his weight and excess fatness, might have been elevated ever further after that."

08-24-2005, 09:36 AM
One fat guy dies, and before they even know the cause, it's an epidemic.

Sounds like some doctors that are just trying to get a piece of the spotlight.

08-24-2005, 09:44 AM
One fat guy dies, and before they even know the cause, it's an epidemic.

Sounds like some doctors that are just trying to get a piece of the spotlight.
I disagree. It's been 2 guys now (Korey Stringer). NFL lineman are getting bigger and bigger, and lets face it, the human heart wasn't meant for a 350+ body, under hot conditions and strenous work.

Many NFL players cite problems with sleep apnea as well.

08-24-2005, 09:50 AM
Korey Stringer was loaded up on Ephedrine.

If you take massive amounts of a chemical that gives you an irregular heartbeat, then go over exert yourself, then yes, it's not good to be fat.

The NFL has about 3000 players every year in training camp. So two have died in the last decade, one of which was taking a substance that has health risks. Those aren't too bad of odds. My guess is more players have been killed in car accidents in that amount of time.

These are probably the most fit fat people in the world. The fact that one in thousands died of some unknown cause is hardly noteworthy. Sometimes people just die, we can't save everyone.

08-24-2005, 09:52 AM
I agree with that point, the odds aren't great for a player to die, but I am willing to bet many of those overweight players will have health problems in the future, and will likely live a short life.

08-24-2005, 10:00 AM
All this talk about body mass index and overweight is mostly a crock. Lineman tend to look chunky in their uniforms when you see them out there standing next to racehorses but check them out in street clothes and you'll find they're usually leaner then expected. Under 15% bodyfat is considered healthy for an american but the avg american is well over 20% bodyfat. In contrast, most lineman even at 330 + lbs are under the 15-17% range (Nose tackles like Gilbert Brown being the exception) :)

Another thing is, and this is too complex to get into much detail on but has to do with stuff like ACE genotype, but the metabolism of the majority of NFL players regardless of position tends to be conducive towards a lower life span. In other words, a funny car burns out faster then a honda civic and many of the same things that make them great athletes make them very prone towards high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes etc.

Rain Man
08-24-2005, 10:07 AM
That Harp report is a crock, and I can't believe that it's getting so much attention when it's so poorly thought out. All she did was calculate BMI's, which really shouldn't apply to professional athletes in the first place.

08-24-2005, 10:11 AM
Here is Will Shields