Mortality of elite athletes: An application to football players

Mortality of elite athletes: An application to football players

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The health benefits of moderate regular physical activity have been clearly demonstrated and are widely consensual. However, there is a growing debate over the potential adverse effects of strenuous physical activity, particularly at a professional level. Recent findings of cardiovascular anomalies in elite athletes coupled with the high frequency of injuries have brought some sports under increased scrutiny. In this context, the main goal of this work is to investigate whether elite athletes live longer than the general population. After an initial review of the literature on elite athletes’ mortality, a comprehensive survival analysis is applied to two populations of professional football players. Lifespan data and specific occupational variables of Portuguese and Spanish football players, who have represented their national teams in their career, were collected from recognized publicly available sources. Each cohort is then compared to the respective standard population, using available data in the Human Mortality Database, through the estimation of standardized mortality ratios and survival curves. The years-lost method is applied to provide a time dimension measure for these elite athletes’ longevity. Furthermore, the association of position on the field and the number of games with overall mortality is accessed using Cox Proportional Hazard Models. At the end, a comparison between the mortality of Portuguese and Spanish football players is carried out. Results obtained suggest that the development of insurance products specifically designed to elite athletes could be of interest for both the companies and the athletes.

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