Student Well-Being

Weight Problems Seen in High School Football

By Laura Greifner — January 30, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Concerns about dangerously overweight players in the National Football League have garnered more attention from the news media and professional-football officials in recent years. Now, a study published last week suggests that high school football linemen may also be at risk of being overweight or obese and susceptible to related health problems.

The study, which appears in the Jan. 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the body mass index, or BMI, of 3,683 offensive and defensive linemen who played for Iowa high school teams in 2005. Data for height, weight, and grade in school were noted from the publicly available rosters.

Weighing Football Players

A study of high school football linemen in Iowa in 2005 tracked body mass index, or BMI, which is calculated using height, weight, and age.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Percent Overweight
Freshmen 26.1%
Sophomores 27.4
Juniors 28.1
Seniors 28.5
18.3% U.S. mean*

*Body-mass-index values among 12- to 19-year-old males in the U.S. 2003-04
SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association

Joey C. Eisenmann, an assistant professor of health and human performance at Iowa State University, and Kelly R. Laurson, a graduate assistant, used the standard calculation of BMI of weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Forty-five percent of the players were classified as being overweight, with BMIs at or above the 95th percentile, including 9 percent who met adult standards of severe obesity. Another 28 percent had BMIs classified as at risk for being overweight, or between the 85th and 95th percentiles.

“One of the main reasons Dr. Eisenmann and I were interested in this project was the initial study on NFL players in 2005,” Mr. Laurson wrote in an e-mail to Education Week. “We wanted to discover if this trend was prevalent in younger players as well.

“In addition, with the rise in childhood and adolescent overweight in the U.S., we suspected that high school linemen would reflect this trend.”

Multiple Causes

The 2005 study had revealed that 56 percent of NFL players were considered medically obese. Additional attention has been drawn to the issue at the professional level with two high-profile player deaths in training camps in the past six years. Both players were linemen who weighed well over 300 pounds.

In addition, the major sports-news television network, ESPN, has aired stories highlighting the severity of the problem at the high school, college, and professional levels.

An extract of the report, “Prevalence of Overweight Among High School Football Linemen” is available from the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Last year, a Scripps Howard News Service study noted that the average body weight in the NFL had grown by 10 percent since 1985, to an average of 248 pounds. The heaviest position, offensive tackle, has gone from 281 pounds two decades ago to 318 pounds today.

Mr. Laurson suggested that emulation of professional players was one reason for the trend at the high school level. But there are other reasons, too.

“High school athletes may have aspirations of playing college and professional football (even though this is not likely),” he wrote in the Jan. 24 e-mail. “They can easily turn on the TV and see the size of these players.

“Also, coaches may put some pressure on athletes to gain weight for competitive purposes,” he continued. “The motto ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ is often used. In addition, the rise of pediatric overweight is well documented and likely contributes.”

Not a Crisis Yet

Bruce Howard, the publications and communications director for the National Federation of State High School Associations, an Indianapolis-based organization that crafts national policies to guide high school sports programs, said that while the weight problem among high school football players should be watched carefully, it is definitely not at the point of being a crisis.

“It’s a concern,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s a national alarm yet.”

Still, Mr. Howard said, his organization’s sports-medicine advisory committee is due to meet in April, and weight and health issues of high school football players are likely to be discussed as part of that meeting.

BMI is not always an accurate indicator of health, critics of the study have said, because it does not distinguish between muscle mass and body fat. The authors of the report acknowledge that weakness in their study. But they believe the data still point to a growing problem.

“We acknowledge that the BMI is a simple measure, and is not without limitation,” Mr. Laurson wrote in the e-mail. “A previous study in high school players (with a much smaller sample) found high levels of percent body fat among this group as well, and we cited this research in our study.

“However, we do believe that there is cause for concern,” he said, pointing out that a number of the linemen in the study had a BMI of greater than 35, which is considered severe obesity by adult standards. “Our focus is on the proportion of these athletes with adult severe obesity at such a young age.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2007 edition of Education Week as Weight Problems Seen in High School Football

Events

Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
K-12 Cybersecurity in the Real World: Lessons Learned & How to Protect Your School
Gain an expert understanding of how school districts can improve their cyber resilience and get ahead of cybersecurity challenges and threats.
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Schools 101: Best Practices & Key Benefits
Learn how to develop a coordinated plan of action for addressing student trauma and
fostering supportive, healthy environments.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Teens Are Struggling With Climate Anxiety. Schools Haven't Caught Up Yet
Schools generally aren't ready to handle an increase in climate anxiety among youth.
12 min read
Jia Sharma-Chaube, 15, left, and Croix Hill, 16, students at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans pose for a portrait at City Park in New Orleans, La., on Nov. 29, 2022.
Jia Sharma-Chaube, 15, left, and Croix Hill, 16, both students at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, are among the substantial number of young who feel anxious about climate change.
Student Well-Being Opinion A Lesson in Gift-Giving, According to Research
Here’s a new way to think about the holiday spirit for young and old alike.
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Subtle Ways to Check on Students' Well-Being
Students sometimes don’t get help because they don’t want to stand out.
3 min read
Illustration of holding hands.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being Flu, Colds, RSV: How Schools Can Help Keep Kids Healthy as Illness Increases This Winter
Drawing on lessons from the pandemic, schools can invest in air filtration and other tried-and-true health measures.
3 min read
Close-up of elementary student disinfecting hands at school due.
Drazen Zigic/iStock/Getty