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High School Sports May Not Protect Kids From Obesity, High Blood Pressure

Mary Caffrey
A nonprofit that provides free sports physicals was able to gather data that revealed important population health findings.
Data collected from free sports physicals for high school athletes in Philadelphia revealed high rates of obesity and high blood pressure, suggesting that playing a sport may not, by itself, protect a student from chronic conditions.

Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University reported findings gathered with the Athlete Health Organization, a nonprofit that provides free evaluations before the start of the season to identify students who have undetected life-threatening conditions, which could put them at risk for injury or death.

The data collection also provides an opportunity to gauge population health, and what the researchers found was unsettling. “This is our first research study and we found alarmingly high rates of obesity and high blood pressure readings among adolescent student centers,” said David Shipon, MD, who is CEO of the nonprofit and a cardiologist at Jefferson.

The team found that 20% of the participants were overweight, 24% were obese, and 14.8% had high than normal blood pressure readings. The students’ body mass index (BMI) readings correlated with the blood pressure findings and were similar to those in the overall adolescent population.

The assumption that sports protects student athletes from poor health must be revisited, said Jill Kropa, MD, the paper’s lead author who was a sports medicine fellow at Jefferson.


Kropa J, Close J, Shipon D, et al. High prevalence of obesity and high blood pressure in urban student athletes. J Pediatr. 2016; doi:10.1016/jpeds.2016.07.006.

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