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As Pro Baseball Players Get Bigger, So Do Their Health Risks: Study
Date:3/4/2010

But N.Y. Mets team doctor disputes finding, saying better training, diet fueling the increase

THURSDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- The fattening of America has touched even professional baseball players: A new study contends they've been getting heavier and bulkier over the past century, resulting in a higher risk of weight-related disease and death.

Eric L. Ding, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, examined the body-mass index of more than 15,000 major league players, stretching back to 1876. He found that the BMI for all players has steadily increased over the years -- with the largest increase seen in home run hitters.

"One reason we chose to study professional players is that there is such an amazing chronology and body of statistics of each athlete who ever played," said Ding, who was to present his findings Wednesday at the American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference, in San Francisco.

Ding compiled data on players from all six recognized major leagues that existed from 1876 to 2007. Using BMI as a measure of overweight, he found that 32 percent of professional players were overweight before 1880; 46.5 percent from 1940-50; and 55.5 percent from 2000 to 2006.

The trend was especially noticeable among home-run hitters. They were more than twice as likely to be overweight as other position players. The study didn't examine why hitters in particular, and pro ball players in general, were getting heavier. But, Ding said, the bigger BMIs probably reflect the sport's growing emphasis on power and strength.

In recent years, there has been controversy over the use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances among athletes, including baseball players. Steroids are known to cause weight gain, which would increase a user's BMI. Ding's study did not address steroid use.

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