A recent study based on research conducted by Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center shows that playing tackle football under the age of 12 exposes children to repetitive head impacts that may double their risk of developing behavioral problems and triple their chances of suffering depression later in life. “This study adds to growing research suggesting that incurring repeated head impacts through tackle football before the age of 12 can lead to a greater risk for short- and long-term neurological consequences,” said Michael Alosco, the study’s lead author, a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University School of Medicine.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 1.23 million children between the ages of 6-12 played tackle football in 2015.
The new study out of B.U. says the consequences of tackle football in this young age group include behavioral and mood impairments such as depression and apathy. The study follows previous findings that brain damage can result from repetitive head impacts, regardless of whether the blows cause concussions.
The researchers looked at both former amateur and professional players, and found that the outcomes were similar regardless of how many years the participants played football or the number of concussions they reported. They also found that the younger the players were when they began playing tackle football, the greater risk they faced of developing problems later in life.
The study, however, did not recommend policy or rule changes for youth football, saying that additional research is needed.
Pop Warner, a non-profit organization that provides activities, such as American football, for over 425,000 youths aged 5 to 16 years old, in a statement about the study voiced issues with the findings saying the participants in the research “played youth football 40 years ago. Youth football has evolved significantly since that period and the major changes Pop Warner has implemented have revolutionized the sport, making it safer and better than ever before.’’
While saying its medical advisory committee would review the findings, Pop Warner added that, “The greatest evidence against this study may be the millions of successful individuals who played youth football and went on to become leaders in society as teachers, doctors, police officers, business owners, CEOs, judges and journalists.”
Medical experts supported by the NFL and youth football organizations have disputed research linking brain damage to the head impacts absorbed by children who play tackle football. A 2016 study published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine found no association between playing football before high school and neurological or behavioral problems.
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