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Tackle football before age 12 may boost risks of cognitive, mood disorders

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Taking hard knocks early in life could shove football players toward neurological problems later, a new study suggests.

Among 214 former amateur and professional male football players, those who started playing early—particularly before the age of 12—had greater risks of reporting depression and impaired behavioral regulation and executive function around their 50s, researchers found. Their study, published today in Translational Psychiatry, adds to a pileup of data that suggests playing tackle football as a youth can have long-term health impacts.

The researchers, led by neurologist Robert Stern at Boston University, specifically homed in on those that began playing tackle before the age of 12, a typical cut-off period for major brain development.

“Between ages 9 and 12 is a time of peak maturation of gray and white matter volume, synaptic and neurotransmitter densities and glucose utilization, among other neurodevelopmental milestones,” they write.

There have been hints before that hard hits during this time can have lasting impacts. In 2015, Stern and colleagues studied 42 former National Football League players and found that those who began playing before age 12 had greater risks of cognitive impairment later in life. And last year, researchers led by neurologists at Wake Forest School of Medicine found that repetitive head impacts in 25 youth players, aged 8 to 13, led to structural changes in their brainswithout causing concussions.

But, in another study last year, researchers attempted—and failed—to reproduce a link between early football playing and greater risks of cognitive impairments in 45 retired NFL players. For the study, the players’ medical exams were sponsored by the NFL, which has been accused of meddling with research. And several of the authors, including lead author Gary Solomon of Vanderbilt University, have consulted and/or worked with the NFL in the past.



More troubling data for the future of youth tackle football.


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Another study conducted with convenience sampling and therefore contains self-selection bias. 

Not to dismiss any findings - but I wish popular press articles spent half as much time discussing that instead of writing sensational headlines.

For example, I am a fan of - and sent my kids to - a P/P school. If I show up at a PTO meeting and conduct a survey of P/P parents, would any conclusions I draw about the state of HS education be valid?

Maybe. Maybe not. But you can't ignore the fact all the respondents were drawn from my convenience sample - and my results should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism.



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So players who suited up to play youth league in the early 1980's have a higher chance of cognitive disorders??  I'm not a scientist, but how would they know a hit at 10 years old caused cognitive disorders 40 years later.  Plus, who are the 42 former NFL players... do they all show signs of cognitive problems.  That isn't even taking into consideration their personal history.  I find it interesting that the post gives vague statistics and quotes... then questions the results of another study that contradicts their findings.  

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