NFL Players Outliving Average American Males: NIOSH

The agency has published its newest research on retired players in the American Journal of Cardiology just ahead of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

The good news in the latest NIOSH research about how long retired National Football League players live is that they had a much lower overall rate of death compared to men in the general U.S. population of similar age and racial mix, Dr. Sherry L. Baron and her colleagues found. Baron, MD, MPH, coordinator for Occupational Health Disparities at NIOSH, on Jan. 30 posted on the NIOSH Science blog a summary of a paper published by the American Journal of Cardiology. She and colleagues Misty J. Hein, Ph.D., Everett Lehman, MS, and Christine M. Gersic report NFL players on average are outliving the average American male.

"Out of the 3,439 players in the study, 334 were deceased. Based on estimates from the general population, we anticipated roughly 625 deaths," Baron writes.

Players had a much lower rate of death from cancers than the general U.S. population. While 85 players died from cancer, "we anticipated 146 cancer-related deaths based on estimates from the general population," she says.

Other important findings were that players who had a BMI of 30 or higher when they played had twice the risk of death from heart disease compared to other players, and African American players had a 69 percent higher risk of death from heart disease than white players. The study controlled for player size and position and determined that those factors are not the reason for the latter difference, Baron writes. They found defensive linemen had a 42 percent higher risk of death from heart disease compared to men in the general population; 41 defensive linemen died of heart disease, while the researchers expected 29 deaths based on estimates from the general population.

The journal paper is titled "Body Mass Index, Playing Position, Race, and the Cardiovascular Mortality of Retired Professional Football Players."

Their study included 3,439 retired players from the 1959 through 1988 seasons, They did not contact the players and thus have no information about smoking, family history of heart disease and other health problems, or changes in the players' fitness and weight after they retired.

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