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Are Large Athletes at Serious Health Risk?

by Candice Walsh Dec 16, 2009
The recent death of WWE wrestler Edward “Umaga” Fatu has people questioning the health risks that large athletes run.

At just 36 years old, Umaga succumbed to a heart attack. Being a world famous performer with an active lifestyle, most people probably wouldn’t question Umaga’s health despite his weight of 350 pounds.

However, new research comparing signs of metabolic syndrome among professional athletes shows that they may encounter future health problems due to their lifestyles. This is particularly true for baseball and football players, especially football linemen.

The study determined that football players are twice as likely to die before the age of 50 as baseball players. Football players have higher fasting glucose levels, higher BMI, and larger waist-to-height ratios in comparison to baseball players. The issue is not likely to disappear anytime soon: up and coming athletes are increasingly overweight and “classified with severe obesity.”

At the other end of the spectrum, wrestlers and other athletes who participate in “weight sensitive” sports often practice unsafe measures to reduce their weight, especially adolescents who risk death by dehydrating and starving themselves. Fortunately, modern practices are more enforced to monitor the progress of cutting weight and insure that it is done safely and moderately.

It is also worthwhile to note that Umaga, along with 10 other wrestlers, were suspended from the WWE in 2007 for steroid usage, which has long-term health effects even after the steroids are no longer used.

Evidently, the competitive nature of sports has overshadowed perhaps the most important reason we sweat, work hard, and hone our athletic ability — our health. When athletes alter their bodies in an unhealthy manner or use drugs to boost their strength, they are robbing themselves and others of the possibility to explore their full potential. Sadly, we learn this the hard way with losses like that of Umaga.

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