By Ken Reed

The research studies that link playing football to brain-related health issues continue to pile up.

The latest study, conducted by Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center, and published in the medical journal Translational Psychiatry, found that those who participated in football before the age of 12 were twice as likely to have problems with behavior regulation, apathy, and executive functioning — including initiating activities, problem solving, planning and organizing — when they get older. These young football players were also three times as likely to suffer from depression in subsequent years.

“Between the ages of 10 and 12, there is this period of incredible development of the brain,” said Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinical research at Boston’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center, who co-authored the study. “It makes sense that children whose brains are rapidly developing should not be hitting their heads over and over again.”

It’s important to note that the findings weren’t limited to players who had suffered concussions while playing football. Stern says that means the dangers to the brain from playing football aren’t simply related to big hits that result in a concussion.

Repetitive, sub-concussive hits to the head can be just as damaging to the brain as concussions, according to researchers that are looking at the accumulation of smaller hits. Research has shown that football players that show no evidence of a concussion can have significant changes to the brain.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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