Study: Favorite Football Team Loss May Increase Heart Attack Risk

Having an emotional connection to the home football team, particularly when they lose an intense game like the Super Bowl, may be bad for fans' health, researchers report.

Studies have shown that sports fans can experience more heart attacks and other events during and after sports matches — particularly World Cup soccer — so Dr. Robert A. Kloner, of the University of Southern California, and his colleagues wanted to see if that was the case for Super Bowls.

They found that compared with subsequent years, overall mortality rates in Los Angeles County increased during and following the highly charged 1980 Super Bowl game between the then Los Angeles Rams and the victorious Pittsburgh Steelers.

Moreover, "death from heart attack was greater during the losing Super Bowl days" than during other days, Kloner told Reuters Health. His team reported their findings in the American Journal of Cardiology.

This was the first Super Bowl for the Rams after more than 3 decades of playing in Los Angeles. Plus, the emotionally-charged game - the lead changed a total of 7 times - was played in southern California.

By contrast, around the 1984 Super Bowl, a game the Los Angeles Raiders won, overall mortality decreased compared with subsequent years, Kloner's group reports in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Previous studies of European soccer fans "suggested an increase in cardiovascular events associated with stressful games," Kloner said, but he and colleagues found little data regarding stress-related mortality from American sporting events.

To address this, Kloner's team assessed Los Angeles County death rates from all causes and cardiac events during the 1980 Super Bowl and the following 14 days. During this time they identified 2.4 overall deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 2.1 deaths on average during similar control days over the next 3 years.

As noted, heart disease, heart attack, and circulation-related deaths were also higher during the losing versus control days.

A similar analysis of the winning 1984 Super Bowl period showed slightly lower overall mortality - 2.2 per 100,000 people - versus 2.3 deaths on average during control days over the subsequent 4 years.

Next up for Kloner's group is trying to figure out whether age, gender, and race played a role in death rates during the study periods. They also wonder whether other events, such as baseball's World Series or basketball play-offs, are similarly associated with stress-triggered mortality among fans.

SOURCE: American Journal of Cardiology, June 15, 2009.