While elite athletes are typically thought of as representing the pinnacle of fitness and health, this may not always be the case.  A recent Canadian study reports that amongst college (American) football linemen, there may be particular concerns regarding metabolic health.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, looked at the prevalence of metabolic syndrome on the University of Saskatchewan’s Huskie football team, which is one of the most prestigious University football programs in Canada.

Metabolic syndrome is defined by a constellation of several criteria, including waist circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol measurements (both triglyceride levels, and the ‘good cholesterol’ called HDL).  Meeting three of the five criteria makes the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.   It is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and a long list of other potential medical complications.

The study found that amongst the Huskies studied,  18 of 21 linemen had at least 1 feature of metabolic syndrome, compared to only 4 of the 18 non-linemen studied.  Three of 21 linemen had the full blown metabolic syndrome, whereas none of the non-lineman had the diagnosis.  Not surprisingly, linemen were also substantially taller, heavier, and had a much higher Body Mass Index (35.6) than the non-linemen (26.4).

Higher body mass is viewed as an advantage for athletes who play the position of linemen, but the health consequences as seen in this study are a serious concern.  The age at which children begin playing football has decreased over the last decade, suggesting that progressively younger children may be being encouraged to pack on the pounds to play the position of lineman more effectively.  As the authors point out, when these young athletes retire from the sport, their longstanding eating patterns may be difficult to break, putting them at even higher risk of significant health consequences of obesity.

As the authors conclude, “much work is necessary to inform policy and to educate on the long term consequences of increased body size” in these young athletes.

Article:  Mannsell K et al.  Prevalence of metabolic syndrome among college football linemen. Can J Diab 2011; 35(5):497.


Dr Sue Pedersen www.drsue.ca © 2012
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