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November 21, 2018

What modern football and lifestyle diseases share

Brazil's forward Neymar (3rd L) gestures after a Group A football match between Brazil and Mexico in the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 17, 2014.
Brazil's forward Neymar (3rd L) gestures after a Group A football match between Brazil and Mexico in the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 17, 2014.

There are some people who live firmly in the past. Having learned one thing and one thing only, they believe that life works as long as there is nothing new.

Their approach is the proverbial hammer to nail everything. It is no surprise that such people love football, the basic rules of which have not changed since the game was invented.

In the months leading up to the start of the world cup, you might have been lead to believe that there would be something new in the game. So many teams, some of them African, the exciting teams, some not so exciting, the well paid coaches with their strategies and tactics explained at length by many suited people sitting in television studios.

In the end few can remember the games that have happened over the past few weeks. This is because we live in the present but are always thinking about the future.

Yet there is always some change going on that we need to take into account. Take for example the physique of the average football player playing in the world cup.

The types of shirts they wore clearly outlines the kind of figure that young women shriek about, non-sporting types shrug and have another beer, while older men claim that is how they looked in their heyday.

The way the shirt fits on the bodies of the football player depends to a large extent on fashion, but cannot hide the changes that have occurred in the modern game of football.

Because football is played mainly with the feet and involves a lot of running theoretically it does not favour very tall or heavy people the way say rugby or basketball does, yet today’s players are still growing in size notable exceptions counted.

The professional footballer today is so much fitter and stronger than those of yesteryear. They run more in a typical game, pass more and play at a much higher tempo than the game was played even twenty years ago. Around the European leagues the average height of players is just under six feet tall.

Forwards and defenders are the tallest while midfielders are just a little shorter on average. There is some difference by countries too with Spain having the lowest average height at 4 feet 10 ¾ inches while German players are a quarter inch taller at five foot.

These changes in football players are not by accident. Almost every child in the world plays football at some point in their lives. Coaches and scouts go looking for particular talents and players with certain physiques.

A player under six feet tall is unlikely to become a goalkeeper or a centre back today. After taking into account the genetics the players are trained physically, mentally and nutritionally to be able to perform. The game is no longer about just natural talent and requires a large support team for the team on the pitch.

The modern game of football bears some similarity to the modern diseases we call non-communicable such as diabetes and hypertension. One common risk factor for these conditions is obesity especially when central obesity characterized by abdominal fat. Most people do not go out of their way to get fat, they just do gradually everyday.

The problem is one of not recognizing change. So people grow fat while protesting that they hardly eat anything! What they fail to recognize is that they are no longer as active as they were as children; spend many hours in meetings during the week, many hours watching football over the weekend and then every four years spend many hours watching the world cup.

One solution that people favour around world cup time is to buy a bigger TV. What problem does this solve? It means that we can see bigger, fitter players better with better sound. Because we have a new TV we are eager to get our TV to watch. Watching TV requires you to sit down and it is the rare person who can watch television without reaching for something to eat.

The players get fitter and better paid, while we get fatter. At this point you might believe that drastic action is needed to reverse an unfortunate trend; in university this was called dialogue. But that will not help solve a longterm problem which has multiple issues requiring resolution.

Because we are trying to create a better future based on our present behaviour; an important person to consult is your doctor to help determine how healthy you are now.

Some of the change can be done on your own. You can eat healthier if you can afford it. But some changes require mobilizing policymakers to focus on the real problems of today.

Without proper security it is difficult to exercise without fear. Bribetakers everywhere increase the cost of fresh food. These are not problems of the elite as some may think but problems that eventually afflict every adult.

Everyone deserves good health improved over time not just the professional players we watch.

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