Higher BMI and risk of death in sumo wrestlers

December 11th, 2009  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  6 Comments

We’ve looked at BMI and risk of death/morbidity in heavyweight NFL players; here’s a study released yesterday that examines the same issue in sumo wrestlers.

Hilarious as it might sound, I do a bit of sumo from time to time. As a 5′ tall female I’m not exactly the body type suited to the sport, but it’s good fun nevertheless.

Sumo wrestling training is tough stuff. Sumo wrestlers are actually more fit than one might imagine. However, it appears that this fitness is not always fully protective. This study suggests that BMI and risk of premature death may be related.

The study was a case-control study, which means that researchers matched 73 wrestlers to 73 deceased wrestlers with the same year of birth (between 1908 and 1955). Researchers included sumo wrestlers who were promoted to the top division, generally called Nyuumaku, between the years of 1926 and 1989.

BMI was a statistically significant death determinant among sumo wrestlers. The present study suggests a higher BMI has strong effects on death and has statistical significance among sumo wrestlers by case-control study, though we could not find an optimal BMI cutoff point for the prediction of death. It is noteworthy that this study was able to identify that a certain weight of a sumo wrestler at a point in his career can show affects on his death, in spite of weight being a fluctuating variable.

There are some limitations in the present study. First, we could not assess the details of body composition, cause of death and the effects of other common risk factors of death such as smoking and alcohol consumption, largely because the data used was secondary data from The Professional Sumo Wrestler Directory. Second, this was a case-control study, so our results may include some bias. Finally, there were only 73 deceased sumo wrestlers examined in this study, implying a need to carry on further research regarding this topic in the future.

This study suggests that an higher BMI can be a predictive factor of death even amongst sumo wrestlers, and that proper guidelines for taking care of their health are necessary.

Kanda, Hideyuki, et al. Higher body mass index is a predictor of death among professional sumo wrestlers. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2009) 8, 711 – 712.


  1. felipe says:

    December 11th, 2009at 7:41 am(#)

    C’mon … it doesn’t list what sumo wrestlers’ BMI’s are … ! I wanna know. 30’s? 40’s? 50’s?? I also want to know the differences in the t-tests.

  2. Mistress Krista says:

    December 11th, 2009at 9:36 am(#)

    I agree. C minus for data display. But you can always email the primary author and ask.

  3. Monica says:

    December 11th, 2009at 10:19 am(#)

    Krista, I’m not laughing at the idea of 5′ you doing sumo– I just want to join you!
    Where & how does a not-particularly-big female in the Canada or US go about learning & doing sumo?

  4. Mistress Krista says:

    December 11th, 2009at 10:23 am(#)

    Here’s where I go:
    The instructor trained and competed in Japan. His claim to fame is judo-throwing some 500-lb dude (he’s a puny 340-ish).

  5. Chris says:

    December 11th, 2009at 11:20 am(#)

    I would like to see a study on athletes with high bmi but acceptable to low bf% to see if BMI remains an important factor in determining health, wellness and predicting death. Lineman and Sumo wrestlers, while athletes, are still generally fat. What about weight trained athletes, bodybuilders etc?

  6. Mistress Krista says:

    December 11th, 2009at 11:24 am(#)

    Very good question! Unfortunately bodybuilders would be hard to use as the bigger ones are also drug users, which confounds the morbidity/mortality risk. You could do something with natural bodybuilders, though the BMI you’d be able to get would not be as dramatic.

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