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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 00:06 GMT
Watching sport 'bad for your health'
Dutch football fans
Watching football can be highly stressful
Most Dutch people have unhappy memories of the France - Holland match in the 1996 European Championships - but they are the lucky ones.

Researchers have found that the number of fatal heart attacks and strokes suffered by Dutchmen on the day that their side went out of the tournament on penalties was significantly higher than normal.


If more football fans regularly took to the football field as well as watching their national teams playing, they could reduce their risk of a heart attack

Jane Landon, National Heart Forum
They believe the reason could be the increased stress associated with watching a big sporting event.

The researchers, from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht compared the number of deaths on matchday - 22 June 1996 - with the number of deaths five days before and after the match and in the same period in 1995 and 1997.

In men, deaths from heart attack or stroke significantly increased on the day of the football match, compared with the five days on either side.

In total, about 14 additional deaths occurred - an increase of around 50%.

No corresponding increase in deaths occurred in women.

Increased emotion

Increased mental and emotional stress, high alcohol intake, overeating and excessive smoking are all known factors which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers point out that watching an important football match is likely to combine several of these factors at the same time.

This may provoke a sufficient level of stress to trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Jane Landon, deputy chief executive of the National Heart Forum, told BBC News Online: "Almost one in ten deaths from coronary heart disease could be avoided if sedentary people took even light, regular exercise.

"If more football fans regularly took to the football field as well as watching their national teams playing, they could reduce their risk of a heart attack in moments of stress."

Scottish study

A previous study found that Edinburgh Royal Infirmary treated an incredible 151 patients for football-related problems during the 1998 World Cup in France.

Problems included:

  • A fan rushed to hospital suffering an asthma attack which came on as he watched the Scots go down 3-0 to the Moroccans in the 1998 World Cup
  • Another fan who needed treatment for self-inflicted deafness from his shouting at the television
  • One fan - sporting a full Scotland strip - was found unconscious after having overdosed on temazepam. He required treatment for psychosis when he said the Scottish squad was talking to him through the television screen.
  • Eight fans who suffered chest pains, two who suffered hyperventilation, one with palpitations and three with alcohol-related seizures
The Dutch study is published in the British Medical Journal.

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See also:

03 Oct 00 | Health
Injury toll of football and rugby
15 Apr 99 | Medical notes
Injury risks for young footballers
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