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June 22/29, 2005

Obesity in the NFL

Author Affiliations

Letters Section Editor: Robert M. Golub, MD, Senior Editor

JAMA. 2005;293(24):2999. doi:10.1001/jama.293.24.2999-a

To the Editor: In their study of obesity in the National Football League (NFL),1 Dr Harp and Ms Hecht address the relatively high weights of professional football players by considering the body mass index (BMI), calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. Throughout this study, the authors use high BMI as a synonym for obesity. However, although BMI has been widely used for several decades, it does not separate or define the several components of body composition, and its interpretation fails to deal with the rather broad range of interindividual variability of lean body mass (LBM) at each given height. Obesity can be defined validly only as some excess proportion of body fat. Even in small, healthy populations of similar age and sex, normal LBM varies by plus or minus 20% about the mean for height and age.2 Professional football players are probably several standard deviations higher than the mean LBM of random young US male populations, and as athletes in training, one might assume their actual proportion of body fat to be relatively low.

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