Association of Playing College American Football With Long-term Health Outcomes and Mortality.

TitleAssociation of Playing College American Football With Long-term Health Outcomes and Mortality.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsPhelps, A, Alosco, ML, Baucom, Z, Hartlage, K, Palmisano, JN, Weuve, J, Mez, J, Tripodis, Y, Stern, RA
JournalJAMA Network Open
ISSN Number2574-3805
KeywordsAged, Brain Concussion, Cohort Studies, Female, Football, Health Care, Humans, Male, Neurodegenerative Diseases, Outcome Assessment

Importance: Exposure to repetitive head impacts from playing American football (including impacts resulting in symptomatic concussions and subconcussive trauma) is associated with increased risk for later-life health problems, including cognitive and neuropsychiatric decline and neurodegenerative disease. Most research on long-term health consequences of playing football has focused on former professional athletes, with limited studies of former college players.

Objectives: To estimate the prevalence of self-reported health conditions among former college football players compared with a sample of men in the general population as well as standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) among former college football players.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study included data from 447 former University of Notre Dame (ND) football players aged 59 to 75 years who were seniors on the rosters from 1964 to 1980. A health outcomes survey was distributed to living players and next of kin of deceased players for whom contact information was available. The survey was completed from December 2018 to May 2019.

Exposure: Participation in football at ND.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Prevalence of health outcomes was compared between living former players who completed the survey and propensity score-matched participants in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Standardized mortality ratios of all causes and specific causes of death among all former players were compared with those among men in the general US population.

Results: A total of 216 living players completed the health survey (median age, 67 years; IQR, 63-70 years) and were compared with 638 participants in the HRS (median age, 66 years; IQR, 63-70 years). Former players reported a higher prevalence of cognitive impairment (10 [5%] vs 8 [1%]; P = .02), headaches (22 [10%] vs 22 [4%]; P = .001), cardiovascular disease (70 [33%] vs 128 [20%]; P = .001), hypercholesterolemia (111 [52%] vs 182 [29%]; P = .001), and alcohol use (185 [86%] vs 489 [77%]; P = .02) and a lower prevalence of diabetes (24 [11%] vs 146 [23%]; P = .001). All-cause mortality (SMR, 0.54; 95% CI, 0.42-0.67) and mortality from heart (SMR, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.39-0.99), circulatory (SMR, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.03-0.83), respiratory (SMR, 0.13; 95% CI, 0.00-0.70), and digestive system (SMR, 0.13; 95% CI, 0.00-0.74) disorders; lung cancer (SMR, 0.26; 95% CI, 0.05-0.77); and violence (SMR, 0.10; 95% CI, 0.00-0.58) were significantly lower in the ND cohort than in the general population. Mortality from brain and other nervous system cancers was significantly higher in the ND cohort (SMR, 3.82; 95% CI, 1.04-9.77). Whereas point estimates were greater for all neurodegenerative causes (SMR, 1.42; 95% CI, 0.29-4.18), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (SMR, 2.93; 95% CI, 0.36-10.59), and Parkinson disease (SMR, 2.07; 95% CI, 0.05-11.55), the difference did not reach statistical significance.

Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study of former college football players, both positive and negative health outcomes were observed. With more than 800 000 former college players living in the US, additional research appears to be needed to provide stakeholders with guidance to maximize factors that improve health outcomes and minimize factors that may increase risk for later-life morbidity and mortality.

Citation Key12354
PubMed ID35442450