Youth Football Is Linked To Later-Life Emotional And Cognitive Problems03:52

Youth football players of the Dorchester Eagles perform drills during practice in August 2016. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Youth football players of the Dorchester Eagles perform drills during practice in August 2016. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 5 years old.

A new study of former youth football players suggests repeated head impacts can leave players at greater risk for short- and long-term neurological issues.

Researchers from Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center screened 214 former players for cognitive and mental health issues.

In the study out Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry, researchers determined that participation in football before age 12 increases the risk of problems with behavior, planning and organization.

Study author Robert Stern says playing the sport in childhood increases the risk of clinical depression later in life.

“Hitting your head over and over again in youth seems to lead to later-life problems, even if you only played up through high school or college," he said.

The research found increased risk was not tied to the number of concussions a player suffered. Translation: Head impacts that aren't concussions still have serious, long-term effects. That reinforces earlier research.

In a press release accompanying the study, Stern added that "more research on this topic is needed before any recommendations on policy or rule changes can be made."

Of the 214 players studied, 43 played only through high school, and 103 played only through college. Results from former players who started playing tackle football before the age of 12 were compared with those who started playing at 12 or later.

According to the press release: "The researchers chose the cutoff of age 12 because the brain undergoes a key period of development and maturation between the years 10-12 in males."

With reporting by the WBUR Newsroom

This segment aired on September 19, 2017.


Shira Springer Twitter Sports and Society Reporter
Shira Springer covers stories at the intersection of sports and society.





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