Researchers Fear Sports May Be Hazardous to Fans’ Health

November 2008 - Ball park hot dogs may be putting sports fans at elevated health risk, researchers at UALR -- the University of Arkansas at Little Rock -- said in research presented last week.

In findings presented at the Arkansas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance Conference, professors at UALRs Department of Health Sciences have discovered that sports fans may engage in riskier health related behaviors than non-sports fans, placing them at an increased risk for illnesses related to unhealthy living practices, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and premature death.

The research team of Drs. Daniel Sweeney, professor of sport management, and Donna Quimby, professor of exercise science, found that people who are more personally committed and emotionally involved with a sports team have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) than do people who are less personally committed and emotionally involved with a sports team.

Additionally, the more enthusiastic sports fans eat fast food more often, have diets which are higher in fat, eat less vegetables, eat breakfast less often during the week, and consume more refined grains as opposed to whole grains than those less identified with a team. "The study results also revealed that the more psychologically connected fans are to a team, the more likely they are to consume more alcoholic beverages on the days that they choose to drink than do less excited sports fans.

"Obesity and unhealthy living practices have reached epidemic proportions in the United States," Quimby said. "Unless we as a nation place more emphasis on preventive health care as opposed to intervention, health care cost will continue to rise."

She called for the development of successful preventative programming and marketing of healthy lifestyles, and bolstering health insurance to include preventative services.

Sweeney said that targeting sports fans who are extremely passionate when it comes to team affiliations, represents a significant opportunity for health policy makers to achieve a significant impact on the health and wellness of many people in this country.

"People in this country spend billions of dollars each year attending games, buying team-related merchandise, and following their teams through the various media," he said. "Although previous studies have shown that die-hard sports fans are psychologically healthier than non-sports fans, this study is the first to examine the physical health risks associated with sport fandom. The results provide preliminary evidence to suggest that sports fans may be a perfect segment to which health prevention marketing efforts can be directed."

He said sports teams and health providers might find ways to work together.

"Aside from being good public policy, potentially significant revenue generation opportunities exist for both sport organizations and providers of health prevention services through sponsorships and other business related relationship practices," he said.

Excited about the possible practical implications that may stem from the findings, the research team said further research is necessary before the findings can be generalized to the American population in general.

"We are encouraged by the results. However, this study represents a preliminary investigation involving participants from our community," Sweeney said. "Our intention is to seek funding so that we are able to further explore the link between team identification and various health measures nationally."

Source: University of Arkansas at Little Rock