Study: Youth Football Might Alter Brain Development

By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports

The debate over youth football and its impact on the possible long term brain disease CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) has been a hotly debated topic as we come to learn more and more about the impact of repeated head trauma.  According to the Boston Globe, a new study that was released on Monday including 40 former NFL players aged 40-65 found that “players who started playing tackle football before age 12 face a higher risk of altered brain development than those who began later in life.”

The study was conducted by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Youth football participation has declined in recent years due to concerns over the impact of continued head trauma at a young age.  From The Globe, the study is the first to show a direct link between “repetitive head impacts early in life and structural brain changes late in life”.

Dr. Robert Stern, the leader of the study among others involved, did caution against concluding from the study that youth football has inherent long term dangers that come with participation.

“The results of this study do not confirm a cause-and-effect relationship, only that there is an association between younger age of first exposure to tackle football and abnormal brain imaging patterns later in life,” said Martha Shenton, a professor and director of the psychiatry neuro-imaging laboratory at Brigham and Women’s in the Globe piece.

The study only included players who went on to play at the NFL level and didn’t study any athletes who played youth football before going on to do other things in life.  Each player had at least 12 years of organized football experience along with at least 2 years in the NFL.

Another new finding came on the topic of brain development in kids and when they are more susceptible to injury.

“Researchers reported finding increased evidence of a “critical window’’ of brain development for children between the ages of 10 and 12, when the brain may be especially susceptible to injury.”

Overall, those who conducted the study seem to agree that this is just the start of attempting to answer the questions about whether playing youth football puts kids at higher risk of brain damage later in life.

Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him. 

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