Multisystem afflictions in former National Football League players

Am J Ind Med. 2019 Aug;62(8):655-662. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22992. Epub 2019 May 27.


Background: The long-term health consequences of participation in American style football (ASF) are not well understood.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study of men who had played in the NFL after 1960. Participants were studied using a standardized self-administered questionnaire designed to determine both the exposure history to ASF and the prevalence of chronic pain, sleep apnea, cardiometabolic disease, and neurocognitive impairment. Logistic regression and negative binomial regression models were used to assess associations between age, ethnicity, body-mass index during professional football career, field position, and football career duration with individual and multiple afflictions.

Results: In this cohort of former NFL players (n = 3745), approximately one quarter of the eligible former players (27%) reported two or more medical afflictions (chronic pain, cardiometabolic disease, sleep apnea, or neurocognitive impairment). Career duration was significantly associated with an increase in the number of comorbidities. Age, race, and body-mass index were associated with all affliction categories, other than neurocognitive impairment, which was similarly prevalent in middle-aged players and older players. Earlier age when first playing the sport was protective against cardiometabolic affliction.

Conclusions: Former NFL players report significant combinations of cross-system afflictions. Future work will be required to determine mechanistic underpinnings. However, attention to the whole player, rather than specific organ systems seems critical to improve long-term health outcomes in former ASF professional athletes.

Keywords: aging athlete; epidemiology; football (American); medical aspects of sport.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology
  • Chronic Pain / etiology
  • Football / injuries*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Diseases / epidemiology
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / epidemiology
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / epidemiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology