Emory University Study Finds Racial Disparities in Heart Condition Among College Football Players

A new study led by scholars at Emory University in Atlanta finds that college football players may be at risk of developing heart-related complications, based on race, the position they play, their weight, and blood pressure. The specific heart-related complication that researchers focused on is called concentric left ventricular hypertrophy or C-LVH. It involves enlargement and thickening of the walls of the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle. With this condition, in the general population, there is increased risk of later-life cardiovascular disease.

In this research study, 300 college football players from two National Collegiate Athletic Association Division-I football programs were recruited and studied between 2014 and 2019. The results showed no racial differences in concentric left ventricular hypertrophy among athletes that played on the offensive or defensive lines. But for skilled position players – quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs – a higher percentage of Black collegiate football players were more likely to develop concentric left ventricular hypertrophy than White football players. Among this group of players, the development of C-LVH was increased in Black players: post-season year one (Black: 16 percent, White: 3 percent); post-season year two (Black: 18 percent, White: 6 percent); and post-season year three (Black: 24 percent, White: 8 percent).

“Our findings add further depth to our understanding of established cardiovascular risk factors observed in college football players, and now which players may be at greatest risk of developing concentric left ventricular hypertrophy,” says Jonathan Kim, an associate professor of medicine, Division of Cardiology, Emory University School of Medicine, chief of sports cardiology for Emory Healthcare and co-author of the article. “By identifying college football players earlier who could develop early heart disease, regardless of race, we feel we can improve cardiac prevention strategies and counseling for these young athletes as they ultimately transition away from competitive football.”

The full study, “Association Between Race and Maladaptive Concentric Left Ventricular Hypertrophy in American-Style Football Athletes,” was published on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It may be accessed here.

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