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, according to a recent study.
The research, conducted by Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, provides the most powerful evidence to date that playing contact football before age 12 may cause brain changes throughout life.
The study stopped short of recommending policy or rule changes for youth football, stating that additional research is necessary. However, it states the consequences include behavioral and mood impairments such as depression and apathy. This follows previous findings that brain damage can result from repetitive head impacts, regardless of whether the blows cause concussions.
The authors said 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.
Neurologists say the brain undergoes a stage of peak maturation between the ages of 9 and 12 — a period when children who play tackle football experience a median of 252 head impacts per season, according to a separate survey.
Dr. Robert Cantu, who helped author the new BU study, has long cautioned against children playing football before age 14 because their brains are not fully developed. Cantu, a neurosurgeon who teaches at BU, has studied head injuries in sports for decades and is the cofounder and medical director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, as well as an adviser to the NFL.
Notable among the NFL stars whose parents have shared Cantu’s health concerns is Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was not permitted to play tackle football until high school. Numerous Pro Football Hall of Famers, including Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre, also have said they would be reluctant to let their young children play tackle football if they had kids that age.
The major youth football organizations have taken numerous steps to improve safety since the damage caused by head blows in football began commanding national headlines and driving down participation among children nearly a decade ago.
None of the studies addressed the possibility of risks of children developing CTE, a neurodegenerative disease that can only be diagnosed postmortem and has been found in the brains of many deceased football players.
Stern, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and anatomy and neurobiology at BU, as well as director of clinical research for the school’s CTE center, praised the health and social benefits of children participating in active team sports, including flag football.
Stern said the BU center will continue participating in a $16 million, long-term study, funded by the NIH and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, aimed at better understanding the clinical implications of head impacts in football and finding a way to diagnose CTE in the living.
About Discover Health & Wellness – Northglenn
Dr. Phillip Wygonski of Discover Health & Wellness Northglenn is located just off Huron Street and West 112th Avenue and serves the Northglenn & Thornton communities. Discover Health & Wellness offers patients a natural and holistic approach to health improvement and pain reduction. Services at Discover Health & Wellness include chiropractic care, spinal correction, corrective exercises, lifestyle advice, nutritional counseling, massage therapy, allergy treatment and spinal and postural screenings.
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