T Nation

Study Claims NFL Players Obese

Yet another indication that the BMI was never meant to be applied to athletes – especially those who deal in strength. Not saying there aren’t any obese guys, but this is preposterous.

CHICAGO – It’s no secret that size matters in the National Football League, but a new study suggests that a whopping 56 percent of NFL players would be considered obese by some medical standards.

The NFL called the study bogus for using players’ body-mass index, a height-to-weight ratio that doesn’t consider body muscle versus fat. The players union said that despite the familiar sight of bulging football jerseys, there’s no proof that obesity is rampant in the league.

But former defensive tackle John Jurkovic said he’s seen plenty of evidence that players have gotten not just bigger but sometimes fatter, “big as houses” in recent years because of league pressure to intimidate opponents and win.

“The NFL teams want it because it’s working,” said Jurkovic, who played for Green Bay, Cleveland and Jacksonville before retiring in 2000.

The theory is that bigger men, especially linemen and defensive players, are better blockers and harder to move.

But the study results suggest that bigger players don’t make a team more successful. There was no relationship between teams’ average player BMI and their ranking in 2003-04, the season studied. Arizona had the highest average BMI, but also the worst record in its division.

In the study, University of North Carolina endocrinologist Joyce Harp and student Lindsay Hecht used statistics on the NFL Web site to calculate BMIs for 2,168 NFL players, nearly all those playing in the 2003-04 season.

Almost all the players qualified as overweight, and 56 percent had BMIs of at least 30 – what doctors consider obese. For example, a 6-foot-2 man weighing 235 has a BMI of just over 30. Nearly half of the obese players were in the severely obese range, with a BMI of at least 35, and a small percentage were morbidly obese with a BMI of at least 40.

Harp acknowledged that without measuring body composition, it’s uncertain how many players were truly fat, but she said it’s unlikely the high BMIs were “due to a healthy increase in muscle mass alone.”

“The high number of large players was not unexpected, given the pressures of professional athletes to increase their mass. However, it may not be without health consequences,” the researchers wrote, citing previous studies that documented obesity-related problems, including sleep apnea and high blood pressure in NFL players.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

While the study methods were not very scientific, players’ growing girth “is a major concern,” said Dr. Arthur Roberts, a former NFL quarterback and retired heart surgeon whose Living Heart Foundation works with the players union to evaluate heart-related health risks faced by current and retired players.

“These larger body sizes are generally associated with greater cardiovascular risks,” Roberts said.

The increasing emphasis on size may be a bad influence on “all the young kids that play football around the country … and are trying to be like their heroes,” Roberts said.

Players union spokesman Carl Francis said health and safety are “discussed all the time,” and that while some players likely are obese, it’s not a major problem.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello called the study substandard and said there’s no proof obesity is worse in the NFL than in U.S. society in general, where about 30 percent of adults are obese, based on BMI data. “This was not a serious medical study,” he said.

Dr. Brian Cole of Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, an orthopedic surgeon who works with the Arena Football League, also questioned the study methods and said some teams list inaccurately high weights to appear more intimidating.

“While clearly there are pressures for increased size” in professional football, relying on published height and weight data but not physical exams is faulty, he said.

Julie Burns, a nutritionist who works with the Chicago Bears, said combining BMI data with players’ waist measurements is a better fat indicator because some highly conditioned athletes with a high BMI also have a large amount of lean tissue.

Jurkovic said he weighed 272 in the mid 1990s – hefty by any standards on his 6-foot-2 frame – but was pressured by a coach to get even bigger and ballooned up to 328. On the BMI scale, that’s morbidly obese. Jurkovic said he had already maxed out on weightlifting so he packed on mostly fat by gorging.

Combined with the physical toll of football, excess weight wears down joints and causes problems as players age and then retire, Jurkovic said. At 37, he now weighs a “chunky” 295 and has ankle problems he blames on football and excess weight.

“It’s tough for the league to police, but I think they should try to police it,” he said.

I didn’t realize I was obese…thanks for the info…

Time to go eat so I can move into the ‘morbid’ category!

This was actually accepted for publication in JAMA?

Most cars today are built much worse than they were in the 1960’s, because they contain more plastic and a lot less steel. Uh huh, right…

the bmi is just wrong…

I was going to post this study too…but then I got high

This researcher just wanted money for her study. I would love to see her health recommendations. Most likley would include more soy, less meat, and long distance running for cardio.

this makes me soooo mad.

i was told i was obese (5 11, 16.5 stone at the time. fit as hell as was training full time)




I read an article several years ago that delt with how wrong the BMI was wrong.

It stated that according to the BMI, Evander Holyfield was considered morbidly obese. This was based on measurements taken the day of the weight in for his first Tyson fight.

How the hell is that obese.

Though I’m still fat regardless…Damn SHW powerlifting division.

According to the BMI, I’m about 30 pounds overweight, but I’m only 9.5% BF on average.

Pay no mind. Just more silly BS.

Saw the article in page 2 of the Boston Herald, read about a paragraph shook my head and went to another article. I think the height weight index is such BS if I where the “correct” weight for my height I’d be somewhere around 150lbs. I would look malnourished(sp) at that weight.

With all of the latest studies that are out there how does this drivel still get published?

I was 13 when I was at my “optimum” weight for my height. Haven’t looked back since.

[quote]michaelv wrote:
This was actually accepted for publication in JAMA?[/quote]

Yeah no shit! They really scraped the bottom of the Barrell with this one.

I’m going to repeat the study with bodybuilders and publsih it in the New England Journal.


One good thing about the BMI is I got to celebrate the day I finally became “overweight”.

BMI keeps getting used because its easier to figure BMI than it is for someone to take an accurate BF%.

My solution to that problem… teach all those that might be involved with anthropometric measurements to use some skinfold callipers.

I heard this on the radio today. i was so angry. made me forget that my car had been written off.

A N G R Y!!!


it should say “all people are fat lazy obese bastards”

yeah, that damned right.

The “BMI” is yet another indication that the government is clueless (see food pyramid) on dispensing quality health information!