Understanding Environmental and Societal Factors to Develop Effective Methodology and Solutions for Weight Management in Elite Football Athletes


To understand the potential solutions in weight management for football athletes we must first understand the factors which can impact in individuals weight in today’s world. While some of the most elite football athletes may contain the gift of genetic talents in speed, power, neuromuscular & motor skills as well as the benefit of access to high income and state of the art training facilities, these individuals are in many ways expose to the same environmental, social conditions that facilitate weight gain in today’s society. It can be reasoned that some of the most elite athletes who perform in the national football league today are strongly impacted and the potential byproduct of a global force in food distribution and availability that has contributed to rising levels of obesity and challenges to weight management both nationally and internationally. Hence, determining an effective solution for weight management for elite football players within today’s society requires us to understand these specific challenges and /or forces that have been noted to contribute to changes in weight.

Weight management can be a difficult endeavor for most individuals including elite athletes (Manore, 2015). The challenges of maintaining weight can be reflected in the continuous and growing reports of high numbers in both overweight and obese individuals nationally and around the world (Swinburn et al., 2011; Skinner & Skelton, 2014; Skinner, Ravanbakht, Skelton, Perrin & Armstrong, 2018). Past reports indicate that 66% of the US adult population is either overweight and/or obese, with 34% being obese (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, Curtin, 2010).

This should come as little surprise as this rise in obesity has been explored on numerous occasions- especially in our children (Skinner & Skelton, 2014; Skinner, Ravanbakht, Skelton, Perrin & Armstrong, 2018). Most recently, health services researcher and associate professor at Duke University, Dr. Ashely C. Skinner and a team of scientists published a report that gives insight to the rising trend of obesity in our children. In their study, they determined that since 2013, there has been a significant increase in severe obesity among children aged 2 to 5 years as well as other groups (Skinner, Ravanbakht, Skelton, Perrin & Armstrong, 2018). This finding shares similar conclusions to studies reported by scientists presently and almost two decades from today (Nicklas, Baranowski, Cullen, & Berenson, 2001;Pan, Park, Slayton, Goodman, & Blanck, 2018). The multiple decades of reports demonstrating growing childhood obesity in the US affirms this epidemic to our national history and our social fabric. This epidemic has been reported for such a long period that one must wonder the long-term effects to both our children and today’s society.

In fact, almost 10 years ago today, investigators reported findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey studied over a 14-year period (1999 – 2012) and their conclusions reflected increases in all classes of obesity in children. More specifically, in 2011 to 2012, 32.2% of children in the United States aged 2 to 19 years were overweight and17.3% were obese (Skinner & Skelton, 2014). Additionally, 5.9% of children met criteria for class 2 obesity and 2.1% met criteria for class 3 obesity (Skinner & Skelton, 2014).

Some of these children have reached adulthood and it appears that the growing obesity epidemic has accompanied their rise in age. New data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reflects that nearly 40 percent of adults were obese in 2015 and 2016 (Hales et al., 2018). Experts largely view this change as a sharp increase from the previous decade.

Public health approaches to develop population-based strategies for the prevention of excess weight gain has been advocated for many years (Ulijaszek, 2003). Health officials have even considered legal interventions as means for combating the rise of obesity (Dietz, Benken & Hunter, 2009). It is reasonable to expect that the presence of public polices and legal interventions detailing the health risks of obesity and weight gain would promote a positive change to reports of obesity. Yet, recent research by scientists show that public health intervention programs have had limited success in tackling the rising prevalence of obesity (Chan & Woo, 2010).

Perhaps our consciousness of the health risks associated with uncontrolled weight gain promoted by various health outlets plays a relatively small role in helping to shape our weight and our thoughts concerning weight gain. Maybe our inability to manage weight stems from larger forces that overshadow those health agencies which promote the adverse effects of weight gain. Some experts believe that the obesity epidemic we continue to face is rooted in the global food system and its availability.

Dr. Boyd Swinburn, a professor of population nutrition and global health at the University of Auckland along with several nutrition health experts have largely attributed the obesity epidemic to the changes in the global food system (Swinburn et al., 2011). Particularly, these health experts assert that the comparatively higher production of highly processed, more affordable, and effectively marketed food in recent years have contributed to an epidemic of weight gain. In other words, the diminished ability to manage our weight (and of our children) globally stems from the increased supply of cheap, palatable, energy-dense foods as well as the improved efforts of food distribution systems to make food products much more accessible, convenient and more persuasive than ever before (Swinburn et al., 2011). Outside of the growing weights and waistlines, across the US and the world, there appears to be a great deal of evidence for this association.

Dr. Urmila Chandran, an epidemiologist, and colleagues published conclusions regarding weight gain in a 2014 study where they sought to understand the independent association between frequency of consumption of foods and drinks that promote weight gain. In this report found in the Journal of Nutrition and Cancer they state the following;

“According to past National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods contribute about 27% of total daily energy intake, with desserts and sweeteners making up almost 20% among all energy-dense and nutrient-poor food groups (Chandran et al., 2014).”

These experts of health and nutrition, in their conclusions continue to note the strong relationship between both the increase availability and consumption of energy dense, nutrient limited foods to reports of weight gain and obesity in all ethnic groups across the US (Chandran et al., 2014).

Additionally, authors of the research article “Prevention of Overweight and Obesity: How Effective is the Current Public Health” also point to the food industry as one of the many reasons for the systematic increase in weight nationally and internationally. They explain that the food industry’s financials incentive to maximize profit through the promotion of larger portions, frequent snacking and the normalization of sweets, soft drinks, snacks and fast food jeopardizes public health efforts for obesity control (Chan & Woo, 2010). Some authors have even asserted that this proliferation of processed and convenience foods means that food corporations have increasingly shaped what and how consumers eat ((Belasco and Scranton, 2002).

To gain greater perspective to the impact of the food industry to the food consumption and weight management, it may be useful to review recent reports of food purchases regarding US households. The results of a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Nutrition indicates that the majority of US purchases are processed foods (Poti, Mendez, Ng, & Popkin, 2015). These, processed foods are described as foods other than raw agricultural commodities that can be categorized based on the extent of changes occurring to them as result of various forms of processing (Poti, Mendez, Ng, & Popkin, 2015).

Dr. Jennifer Poti, a nutritional epidemiologist and a team of investigators found that more than three-fourths of energy in purchases by US households came from both moderately processed (basic processed foods with the addition of flavor additives such as sweeteners, salt, flavors, or fat) and highly processed (multi-ingredient industrially formulated mixtures processed to the extent that they are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source) foods and beverages (Poti, Mendez, Ng, & Popkin, 2015).

Similar results were found from a study investigating the consumption of ultra-processed foods. Ultra- processed foods are understood as ready‐to‐consume products entirely or mostly made from industrial ingredients and additives (Monteiro, Moubarac, Cannon, Ng & Popkin, 2013). Published reports indicate that ultra-processed foods comprised 57.9% of energy intake of the US diet in a national health and nutrition examination survey (Steele et al., 2016). In other words, over half of the food items that we purchase and consume is either moderately and/or ultra-processed.

Furthermore, some of food items are considered to be extremely profitable to the food industry. In the book “A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System authors described the impact high profitability of highly processed products such as convenience foods. They note the popularity of convenience foods among food manufacturers because of the high earnings for which they provide. For instance, among the 10 most profitable food production categories in the United States, 6 are convenience/snack foods: snack foods; cookies, crackers, and pasta; chocolate; sugar processing; ice cream; and candy (Nesheim, M. C., Oria, M., & Yih, P. T., 2015). As noted by the authors, the majority of these foods are of low nutrient density or high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

Through this brief review of literature, we have established

  1. Evidence that the proliferation of processed and convenience foods appears to be financial rewarding for the food industry (Chan & Woo, 2010; Nesheim, M. C., Oria, M., & Yih, P. T., 2015).
  2. Growing evidence continues to note the increasing availability and consumption of moderately, highly and ultra-processed or nutrient poor foods to individuals. (Belasco and Scranton, 2002; Chandran et al., 2014; Poti, Mendez, Ng, & Popkin, 2015; Steele et al., 2016).
  3. The availability of these processed foods manufactured by a rising food industry has a direct correlation to what we eat and the rates of obesity (Belasco and Scranton, 2002; Swinburn et al., 2011
  4. .There is a continued rise in the rates of obesity within children and adults over the last years both nationally and worldwide. obese (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, Curtin, 2010; Hales et al., 2018; Pan, Park, Slayton, Goodman, & Blanck, 2018;Swinburn et al., 2011; Skinner & Skelton, 2014; Skinner, Ravanbakht, Skelton, Perrin & Armstrong, 2018)

Understanding these factors provides perspective to the scope of various challenges that may play in to weight management of the athletes for which performance specialists are responsible for. Engaging in solutions to better help athletes perform to their potential requires comprehension of both their environment and the societal stressors for function. If performance specialists and coaches value an athlete’s weight as an important metric for performance than a sound methodology for improving factors concerning weight management must first acknowledge evidence of environmental stressors of an increasing availability consumption of moderately, highly and ultra-processed or nutrient poor foods to individuals and/or athletes. (Belasco and Scranton, 2002; Chandran et al., 2014; Poti, Mendez, Ng, & Popkin, 2015; Steele et al., 2016). Secondly, this methodology and/or form of solution for weight management must be aware of thate the availability of processed foods manufactured by a rising food industry has a direct correlation to what society eat as well as well as societal rates of obesity (Belasco and Scranton, 2002; Swinburn et al., 2011. Third a perspective for solution must acknowledge that there has and continues to be a rise in the rates of obesity within children and adults over the last years both nationally and worldwide ((Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, Curtin, 2010; Hales et al., 2018; Pan, Park, Slayton, Goodman, & Blanck, 2018;Swinburn et al., 2011; Skinner & Skelton, 2014; Skinner, Ravanbakht, Skelton, Perrin & Armstrong, 2018). And finally, a methodology designed to improve weight management for football athletes must recognized the relationship of reports of weight gain in society to evidence of weight gain in football. In Part 3 of challenges of weight management in elite football athletes during the NFL Off-season: Understanding environmental and societal factors in effort to develop effective methodology and solutions for weight management in elite football athletes we will evaluate this relationship and complete the foundation for an effective methodology for weight management for elite football athletes.



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Flegal, K.M., Carroll, M,D., Ogden, C.L., Curtin, L.R. (2010) Prevalence and trends in obesity among US adults, 1999–2008. JAMA. 303(3), 235–241.

Hales, C. M., Fryar, C. D., Carroll, M. D., Freedman, D. S., & Ogden, C. L. (2018). Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity Prevalence in US Youth and Adults by Sex and Age, 2007-2008 to 2015-2016Jama, 319(16), 1723.

Manore, M. M. (2015). Weight Management for Athletes and Active Individuals: A Brief Review. Sports Medicine Journal of Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.z.), 45(Suppl 1), 83–92.

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Nicklas, T. A., Baranowski, T., Cullen, K. W., & Berenson, G. (2001). Eating Patterns, Dietary Quality and ObesityJournal of the American College of Nutrition, 20(6), 599-608.

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Skinner, A. C., Ravanbakht, S.N., Skelton, J.A., Perrin, E.M., Armstrong, S.C. (2018). Prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in US children, 1999-2016. Pediatrics, 141(3), :e20173459

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About the author:

Dan Liburd has over a decade of experience working with professional athletes and as an NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. He also has experience working in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs, as well as working collaboratively with chefs, medical and performance staff to produce benefit for team and individual athlete performance. Dan Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He received his Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards his Ph.D. Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd holds a variety of certifications in Health and Sport Nutrition, Olympic Weight Lifting, Manual Therapy Techniques and Movement Assessment. These certifications include Precision Nutrition Level I and Level II as well as USA Weightlifting, Active Release Techniques and Functional Movement Systems. Liburd is also working towards licensure in massage therapy to contribute to his experience in educating, coaching and promoting Health, Fitness and Sport Strength and Conditioning. Liburd currently works as a Tactical Strength and conditioning coach for EXOS. His experience includes stints with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy.

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