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Feature Story

September 2016


Study Shows High Obesity Rates Among Student Athletes

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By Deborah L. Vence

Similar rates of obesity and high blood pressure readings have been found in student athletes that you would see in the general adolescent population, according to researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

The research was published in The Journal of Pediatrics and comes out of the Athlete Health Organization (AHO), which is a nonprofit that provides free pre-participation evaluations to student athletes in Philadelphia each year prior to the start of the season in order to identify students who might be at risk for injury, illness or death. Volunteer physicians gather biometric information and provide a physical exam including an electrocardiogram. More than four years ago, the organization provided physicals to more than 2,700 athletes and found life-threatening conditions in a handful of students.

"We founded the Athlete Health Organization to promote safe sports activity, but we can also use these events to evaluate the overall health of this population," stated David Shipon, M.D., CEO of Athlete Health Organization and cardiologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, in an August news release. "This is our first research study and we found alarmingly high rates of obesity and high blood pressure readings among adolescent student-athletes."

The pre-participation physical evaluation (PPE) included biometric information, a history and a physical examination. Medical volunteers measured blood pressures using a manual blood pressure cuff with an aneroid manometer. The data from each PPE were collected and analyzed for prevalence of obesity, overweight and hypertension-level blood pressure readings.

The team discovered that 20 percent of participants were overweight, 24 percent were obese and 14.8 percent had higher than normal blood pressure readings. Furthermore, body mass index correlated strongly with high blood pressure readings, numbers that are comparable to the general adolescent population.

"Although the general presumption is that athletics and activity should help with weight and blood pressure control, our study suggests that student-athletes in Philadelphia are suffering from these conditions at the same alarming rate as their peers who do not sign up for school sports," said Jill Kropa, M.D., first author and sports medicine fellow at Thomas Jefferson University at the time of the study.

The study's findings suggest that the urban student-athletes are not as healthy as one would hope and are at risk for future complications if the prevalence of obesity and elevated blood pressure are not addressed, according to the article.

The study's authors hope their research results will raise awareness of health issues affecting the student-athlete population.


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