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Ex-NFL Players Drop Pounds, Boost Health

Many people struggle with their weight, and former athletes are no exception.

But athletes who gain weight once they retire are at a higher risk for serious medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. That's why four retired NFL players, including two from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, teamed up as part of a weight loss study by Tampa General Hospital and the USF Health Bariatric Center to tackle their obesity.

Dr. John Paul Gonzalvo, the bariatric center's co-director and founder, said team dynamics were a key part of the weight loss effort, called 'HOPE.'

"We thought the NFL players gave us a unique opportunity because they already have that team comradery,” he said, ”and so we thought that they'd be able to help each other out, give each other support, encouragement, the proper ribbing when appropriate, and you know, the proper push to go on to improve."

He says all of the athletes saw some level of success in the Tampa program, one of five ongoing programs in the United States. The six-month program started by having the men to drink meal-replacement-shakes twice a day, with just one high-protein, low-carbohydrate dinner as a meal. The eating plan evolved, and the men attended weekly nutrition and behavior modification counseling, program officials said.

"When we look at medical weight loss programs or when the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) goes to approve a new medication for weight loss they look for a 5 percent reduction in weight,” he said. ”Our players right here that you're seeing today they've achieved a 15 percent reduction in weight as an average for the group."

Brian Holloway used to be an offensive lineman for both the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Raiders. He said that he has pain that hinders his ability to work out. But it’s important to start addressing weight loss in some way, he said.

"So the fact is when you're 55 in NFL terms that means you're 75 because of what we've done” to your body, he said. “So the solution - there is only one solution - and so that is dramatically to take this on."

Holloway says he's already lost 75 pounds on the program and he wants to stick with it for another year in order to lose 50 more.

The biggest loser of the group was former Buc Rob Taylor. He started the program weighing 340 pounds, but now he’s down to 247.

According to Tampa General and USF Health, structured weight management programs like this one are recommended for obese men who are seeking to lost weight.

HOPE, which is supported by the Living Heart Foundation, launched in 2012 in Philadephia. Seattle and San Diego are among the other NFL cities where the program has been tested.

Rob Taylor before losing 93 pounds as part of the HOPE Program
Rob Taylor / Tampa General Hospital & USF Health Bariatric Center
Tampa General Hospital & USF Health Bariatric Center
Rob Taylor before losing 93 pounds as part of the HOPE Program

Rob Taylor (left) after losing 93 pounds as part of the HOPE Program
Tampa General Hospital & USF Health Bariatric Center /
Rob Taylor (left) after losing 93 pounds as part of the HOPE Program

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Megan Milanese is an intern with WUSF’s health reporting project Health News Florida.