NEW YORK -- The NFL is telling retirees about a medical study that says former players live longer than men in the general population.
While player safety issues related to brain trauma and other football-related injuries dominate the headlines, the study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found 334 deceased men in a sampling of 3,439 former NFL players. Estimates for the general population anticipated 625 deaths.
Players in the study participated in the NFL for at least five seasons from 1959 through 1988, and were observed by NIOSH through 2007.
The study is a follow-up to a 1994 report the institute did at the request of the players' union to "investigate concerns that players were dying prematurely." The latest findings, which contradict that idea, were published earlier this year in the American Journal of Cardiology and on NIOSH's blog. The NFL sent a newsletter from NIOSH about the study's finding to about 3,200 pre-1993 retired players on Tuesday.
The results come as NFL veterans by the hundreds -- from both recent years and decades ago -- are suing the league because of long-term health effects, many head injuries they sustained playing football. The league maintains player safety was and is a major priority.
The latest study found that players had a much lower rate of cancer-related deaths, with 85 dying from the disease as opposed to a projected 146 based on estimates from the general population. One reason for that could be low levels of smoking among athletes, but NIOSH did not attempt to contact former players about their smoking habits.
Larger players, particularly defensive linemen, had a higher level of deaths from heart disease, 41 as opposed to an expected 29. There were 498 defensive linemen studied.
Offensive and defensive linemen, of course, are likely to have a higher body mass index, a measuring factor for obesity.
Overall, though, the study showed that the risk of players dying of heart disease was lower than the general population, with 126 deaths while the anticipated number was 186.
The report made several recommendations to former football players about maintaining a healthier lifestyle.
"Though football-related injuries may make it hard to exercise regularly," the report said, "it is important that players continue to be active or maintain a healthy weight. It is also important to not smoke, eat right and treat medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes."
NIOSH also is studying neurological causes of death among the NFL players, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).