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Ann Epidemiol. 2012 Jun;22(6):406-12. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2012.04.009.

Does the African-American-white mortality gap persist after playing professional basketball? A 59-year historical cohort study.

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  • 1Division of Epidemiology and Public Health City Hospital, Nottingham, United Kingdom.



The African-American-white mortality gap for males in the United States is 6 years in favor of whites. Participation in professional sport may moderate this ethnic disparity. The historical cohort of professional basketball players, with nearly equal numbers of African-American and white players, can provide a natural experiment that may control for the classic confounders of income, education, socioeconomic status (SES), and physical factors related to mortality. The objectives of this study are to assess mortality and calculate survival for the overall study population and within ethnicity.


Data were combined from several publicly available sources. The cohort was analyzed to compare longevity among all players, and for players stratified by ethnicity, with the general U.S. population.


The final dataset included 3366 individuals, of whom 56.0% were African American. Results suggest white players live 18 months longer than their African-American colleagues. African-American players gained 9 years on their respective referent and live longer than white men in the general public. After controlling for covariates, we found that African-American players have a 75% increased risk of death compared with white players, a statistically significant gap (p < .0001, 95% confidence interval 1.41-2.44).


The African-American-white mortality gap for males is largely ameliorated (1.5 years vs. 6.1 years) in professional basketball but still persists.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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