Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Bowl, A Question of Life or Cardiovascular Death! ✰ Are Super BOWLs to Blame For the US Obesity Epidemic? ✰ By BMI Standards the Average NFL Player is "Obese"

Conundrum of the day: Is it really any wonder, that the average American has weight problems if their football stars are obese?
After reading the "Cultural Guide to the Super Bowl for People Who Don't Watch Football" (read it yourself) on, I realized that I cannot simply ignore Super Bowl XLVIII and since I have absolutely no idea of how American Football works and how it came about that you, my dear US friends, are going crazy about people carrying a ball that's called FOOT-ball (I mean, it's not "carry-ball") around in your arms, I decided to do what I usually do, when I don't understand things: Look for answers on the science databases on the Internet.

I have to admit, I did not really find the answer to my initial question and I still don't know the rules of the game, but I found a couple of "related" stories, you may be interested in:
  • Super-BOWLs to blame for the obesity epidemic (van Kleef. 2012) -- I guess this would be an appropriate headline for a press release based on a study that was published in 2012 in the peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

    According to the data Ellen van Kleef and Mitsuru Shimizu and Brian Wansink present in this paper, "super bowls" with a capacity of 6.9-l betray people into overeating (in this case on pasta).
    Figure 1: Super BOWL Wargning - When pasta is served in large vs. medium sized bowls people have difficulties controlling their pasta intakes (van Kleef. 2012)
    If you take a closer look at the data in Figure 1 you will realize that ladies are much more prone to the "bowl trick" than guys. If you think about the different eating habits between men (eat until you're satieted) and women (eat until you feel guilty / think you had enough), it is yet not really surprising that the women stopped eating earlier, when they got their pasta in the medium-sized 3.8L bowls.

    What's particularly amusing is that Wansing et al. showed in a very similar experiment with ice-cream that even "experts", i.e. nutritionists, are not immune against the "big bowl, big appetite" phenomenon and served themselves ~30% of extra ice-cream when the latter was served in bigger bowls (Wansink. 2006).
  • Super Bowl outcome's association with cardiovascular death (Schwartz. 2013) -- If you take a look at the messages on Twitter, Facebook and Co. it's quite clear that the Super Bowl is a matter of life or death for many Americans. That this is true in both the figurative and literal sense, is not immediately obvious, though - and still, according to a group of scientists from the Good Samaritan Hospital in LA, this is yet actually the case.
German soccer fans at greater risk than US football fanatics: If the scientists' assumption that the increased risk in cardiovascular death is proportional to the "strength of the support" for the home team, us Germans are must be really supportive of our soccer team. According to a 2008 study by Ute Wilbert-Lampen et al. the risk of dying from any sort of cardiovascular complication more than doubled during our home-worldcup in 2006 (Wilbert-Lampen. 2008).
  • The scientists analyzed the number of cardiovascular incidences during two "high drama and intense Super Bowls" (NYC beat New England (Massachusetts) in 2008 and Pittsburgh defeated Arizona in 2009) and found
    • a +20% increase in circulatory and a +24% increase in ischemic heart disease deaths after Massachusett's defeat, and
    • a -25% decrease in circulartory, -31% decrease in ischemic heart disease, and a -46% reduction in myocardial infarction deaths in Pittsburg
    What's somewhat astonishing, though is that the cardiovascular death rates did not change in Arizona (all p > 0.19)... well, Schwartz et al. obviously have an answer: "Massachusetts and Pittsburgh show stronger support for their home teams compared with Arizona." (Schwartz. 2013 ;-)
  • Fat or fit? By BMI standards he is obese, but what about the actual anthropometric data of the "average NFL player"? (Luke. 2014) -- Very timely, I should say... what? Ah, yes. I meant the ahead-of-print publication of a study by Pryor, Huggins, Casa, et al. in the online version of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "A Profile of a National Football League Team", that sounds promising, right?

    Well, if you look at the data the scientists from the Human Performance Laboratory of the University of Connecticut gathered, you will realize that this "profile" is a simple analysis of the anthropometric data of all players of the 2011 New York Giants team.
    Figure 2: NFL player comparison of pooled and weighted body fat (%), - mass (kg), and - height (cm); data based on anthropometric measurement of the 2011 New York Giants team (Pryor. 2014)
    So! Now you tell me, who do you wanna be, the ripped, wide receiver or the massive offensive lineman? What? You wanna be the quarter back? How did I know that!?

    "Interesting, but are there any practical implications to this?" In case that's what you are just thinking a brief quote from the paragraph on "practical applications" of this study may give you a leg up:
    "[Our] study adds new players' data to prototypical position-specific databases that may be used as templates for comparison of players for draft selection or physical training." (Pryor. 2014)
    In view of the fact that the anthropometric profiles did not dramatically differ over the past 13 years, we may also assume that aside from a trend toward improved body composition in some positions the "prototypical" and maybe even ideal football player is already out there, so that physical characteristics have little impact on the successful outcomes in the NFL.
I know you still have to fill the bowls with popcorn, so I am not going to keep you from fulfilling this important duty... just remember: you may turn from "wide receiver ripped" to "offensive lineman"... well, let's say "massive" in no time, if you keep choosing the SUPER (large) BOWL too often ;-)
  • Pryor, J. Luke, et al. "A Profile of a National Football League Team." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28.1 (2014): 7-13.
  • Schwartz, Bryan G., Scott Andrew McDonald, and Robert A. Kloner. "Super Bowl outcome’s association with cardiovascular death." Clinical Research in Cardiology 102.11 (2013): 807-811.
  • van Kleef, Ellen, Mitsuru Shimizu, and Brian Wansink. "Serving bowl selection biases the amount of food served." Journal of nutrition education and behavior 44.1 (2012): 66-70.
  • Wansink, Brian, Koert Van Ittersum, and James E. Painter. "Ice cream illusions: bowls, spoons, and self-served portion sizes." American journal of preventive medicine 31.3 (2006): 240-243.