August 30, 2014 Saturday
HEADLINE: Size of players illustrates growth of obesity
Back in the 1940s, the Lincoln (Neb.) High School football team hosted Gothenburg High, from a western Nebraska town whose total population was only a bit larger than the LHS student body.
The teams had never met before. In those days, Lincoln High usually beat everybody, with a couple of Omaha teams offering the only serious competition.*
Gothenburg would have been expected to get buried, except for the fact that it had a player weighing 240 pounds. By the standards of the 1940s, that was awesome. The LHS line averaged maybe 150.
On game night the bleachers were full. People wanted to see the big guy. But as a player, he wasn't much. LHS won with ease.
Fast-forward to autumn of 2013, and Iowa's high-school football playoffs.
The winners of the four divisions - Des Moines Dowling, Cedar Rapids Xavier, Sioux City Heelan and Washington - fielded offensive interior lines (tackle to tackle) with a composite average weight of 233 pounds, at an average height of just over 6 feet. Dowling's middle five on offense averaged 257. Several playoff teams sported 300-pounders.
Better nutrition over the years has made for far bigger kids. But big doesn't always mean healthy.
Obesity begins with a body mass index of 30. At 6'0", a 233-pounder in his upper teens has a BMI of 31.2, putting him in the 97th percentile of heavyweights.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's assessment of a young man of that size: "This teen is obese and likely to have health-related problems."
The Dowling middle-five scored BMI 34.7, putting them in the 99th percentile. That doesn't necessarily mean they're out of shape; BMI does not distinguish between fat and muscle. Further, interior offensive linemen train hard.
Of greater concern are the soft and sedentary heavyweights whose main exercise is chewing and swallowing. But the emphasis on size can be a compromising factor to football's athletic value as a sport.
Other high-school sports emphasize speed, agility and endurance, contributing to good health and firm bodies. Excess - meaning fat - pounds tend to exacerbate injuries, the torn knees and twisted necks that too often stay with a teen decades after his school heroics are forgotten.
In an Iowa Poll conducted last year, four out of five respondents named obesity as an increasing challenge for Iowa's kids. And Iowa is typical.
Thirty years ago, the CDC reports, 5 percent of America's teens were obese. Today it's 18 percent.
It gets worse. This summer, the American Heart Association reported that our youth are far less fit than their parents were as kids. They don't run as fast, or as far, or as often. They take an average of 90 seconds longer to run a mile than the kids of 30 years ago. That's a considerable difference.
American youth get one-third of the recommended hour-per-day of vigorous activity, the American Heart Association reports. And heart fitness is falling steadily.
As kids age, the obese risk bone and joint woes, pre-diabetes, sleep apnea and more. Half of obese schoolkids become obese adults - and as adults, they're risking everything from slow death via Alzheimers to quick death via heart attacks.
That also is scary.
In the best of all worlds, school sports would be extensions of true physical education, encouraging aerobic and weight training that establish habits useful far into one's adult future. And PE would be required through high school, with diplomas withheld from those who are as lazy of body as others are lazy of mind.
Like mental development, physical training is in the public interest. Lack of exercise is listed as a factor in practically every ailment to which the adult body is subject - and the fit pay the health bills of the unfit.
Let the sweating begin.
* In the author's three years at Lincoln High in the 1940s, the school never lost a home game. The author didn't make the team, which doubtless was a major factor in its success.
BILL LEONARD of Des Moines is a retired Des Moines Register editorial writer. Contact: LBleona@aol.com
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Des Moines Register
August 30, 2014 Saturday
SECTION: A; Pg. 13