Obesity has long been associated with an increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Neck circumference guidelines (greater 17 inches for men and 16 inches for women) as a risk factor for OSA came out of several studies on NFL players. The University of Connecticut reported that the increase in body mass in football players since the 1970’s has occurred primarily in offensive and defensive linemen.
The University of North Carolina reported in 2005 that more than 25% of NFL players were obese. Scripps Howard newspapers reported that the heaviest NFL players were more than twice as likely to die before their 50th birthday. Probably the most famous NFL player to die from complications of untreated OSA is Reggie White, the hall of fame defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers.
Given the high prevalence of OSA in the NFL, the NFL alumni association (NFLAA) and players associations (NFLPA) and the Pro Players Health Alliance (PPHA) have teamed together to raise the awareness of undiagnosed sleep apnea among their ranks. In addition, they are lending their star power to bring this awareness to the general public by creating a program of local meetings where diagnosed and undiagnosed sleep apnea patients can come and hear stories and testimonials from their gridiron heroes as well as receive an educational message from medical and dental professionals with special training in Sleep Medicine.