Super Bowl Sunday: A Medical Perspective

I am not an avid football follower, nor do I pretend to be.  I pay for ESPN only so my friends still want to attend my dinner parties in the fall, and so I am not embarrassed when I can't provide a viewing of the 'big game'.  But, I love Super Bowl Sunday. It is the one chance I have during the year to unashamedly stuff my face with beer and nachos.  Developing an annual case of heartburn helps me sympathize with my patients.  Based on my behavior today, I will not guilt you with a post describing how many calories you are about to consume.  Instead, let's look at the health risks of playing football.

1. MRSA and Abscesses

It appears that MRSA infections are quite common among football players.  Between 2003 and 2005, high school football players in Texas suffered from staph infections at a rate 16 times higher than that of the general population.  At the University of Southern California in 2002 an outbreak of MRSA occurred among the football team resulting in the hospitalization of two players.  All I can say is I'm glad I'm not the one draining abscesses on linebackers.

2. Concussions

Concussions, violent shaking of the brain resulting in neurotransmitters flooding the brain with chemicals deadening certain receptors linked to learning and memory, are unfortunately common among football players.  Less severe, repetitive mild hits to the brain have also been linked to long-term degenerative brain disease.  Currently, thousands of former NFL players are suing the league accusing them of hiding information about the dangers of concussions. 

3. Heat Related Illness

The CDC studied high school student athletes between 2005 and 2009 examining the rate of heat related illness.  Football players experienced heat related illness at a rate ten times higher than that of eight other sports.  Most players experiencing symptoms were overweight or obese.

4. Obesity

Football players are holding true to the American tradition of bigger is better.  According to the Washington Post, in 1980 only three NFL players weighed more than 300 pounds.  In 2011 there were 352 players topping the 300 pound mark including three 350 pound players.  All but one of the NFL's 32 teams have offensive lines boasting an average weight of more than 300 pounds.  These hefty players are obviously at increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other long-term health complications. 

5. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Repetitive head trauma leads to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease causing depression, memory loss and cognitive impairment.  CTE was brought to public attention after multiple NFL players including stars like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, a former defensive back for the Chicago Bears, committed suicide.

And let's not forget the spectators- at the University of Nebraska, one to two fans suffer from heart attacks during each home football game.  

Despite the health risks of playing football (and watching it), I will enjoy watching tonight's game, although mainly for the commercials and fatty snacks.  Then, I will rest up as I will need my energy to diagnose MI's and cases of DKA tomorrow in the ER.