Playing tackle football before age 12 “may have long-term neurobehavioral consequences,” according to a study published on Tuesday.
Researchers from Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center -- who have led several studies exploring links between football and the debilitating brain disease CTE -- surveyed 214 former football players and found that participation in football before age 12 “corresponded with worse behavioral regulation, depression, apathy and executive function, as well as increased odds for clinical depression and apathy.” The findings were published in the journal Nature’s Translational Psychiatry.
“This study adds to growing research suggesting that incurring repeated head impacts through tackle football before the age of 12 can lead to a greater risk for short- and long-term neurological consequences,” Michael Alosco, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
The average age of participants at the time the survey was conducted was 51, and included 43 who only played through high school and 103 who only played through college. Sixty-eight professionals made up the rest of the participants.
The results of the telephone survey were compared to a survey of those who didn’t begin playing football until age 12 or later.
Boston University’s CTE Center previously reported a link among former NFL players who began playing football before age 12, which showed memory and other cognitive issues. The former NFL players in that study, which included MRI brain scans, were also compared to former players who didn’t start playing tackle football until they were 12 or older.
Ann McKee, director of Boston University's CTE Center, was a co-author of both studies.
“I’d never want to make the decision for anyone else,” McKee told USA TODAY Sports in 2016. "It’s up to parents, in their set of circumstances, to weigh the advantages of letting their child play the sport and assume the risk. But as a parent, it would not be worth the risk.”
A news release that accompanied the study noted: “The researchers point out there are many important health and psychosocial benefits of participating in athletics and team sports during pre-adolescence.”