Published: Wed, September 20, 2017
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Youth Football Ups Odds of Brain Problems in Adulthood

Youth Football Ups Odds of Brain Problems in Adulthood

As noted in the Globe's story, a recent UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion study found that 53 percent of adults say they believe playing football before high school can be hazardous to health.

Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinic research for BU's CTE center, said the findings should make parents pause before signing up their kids to play youth football.

Those who participate in tackle football before turning 12 double their chances of developing behavior problems and triple their risk of experiencing depression.

Now, experts have discovered that the symptoms tackling the minds of football players aren't limited to disease-a full spectrum of cognitive and mood disorders can arise, particularly for those who begin playing before age 12.

The new research comes as concerns about football have increasingly trickled down to the youth level. Specifically, he determined that players who started earlier than age 12 were twice as likely to have "clinically meaningful impairments in reported behavioral regulation, apathy and executive function" and were more than three times as likely to have clinically elevated depression scores.

These risks were not affected by the number of years spent playing football or the amount of concussions participants experienced but the effects were worse the younger the player started.

The male subjects had not played any contact sport other than football, either at high school, college or professionally.

A spokesman for Pop Warner released the following statement in response to the BU study: "The participants in this study played youth football 40 years ago". Alosco points to hits to the head. "Then, very few football players in this country would develop CTE".

The study has limitations.

"People that play long and hard but started later don't have the liability of people that started earlier", Kosofsky said.

Those risks are in addition to more direct damage that can occur with repeated impact from head-to-head collisions that occur during football games, whether or not those impacts lead to concussions. "We definitely need to avoid knee-jerk reactions to a single study".

"There's no reason in my mind why children should be hitting their heads repeatedly while they're going through brain development".

The study, published today in Translational Psychiatry, does not assess the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), the brain disease that has shown up time and again in deceased professional football players' brain scans. The league has advocated for a minimum of contact practices along with other safety measures including USA Football's proposal to adapt a 7-on-7 form of football that incorporates a two-point starting stance and Practice Like the Pros, which has advocated for only flag football to be played until 7th grade. "If you have to take hits to the head at all, you're better off taking them at later ages".

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