BU study finds football players under 12 at high risk of brain injury

BOSTON — A new Boston University study published Tuesday found a single season of youth football can change a child's brain.

The findings focused on children 12 and under and, according to the study, those first 12 years of a child's life are critical to brain development.

That’s why any damage -- no matter how small -- could mean health concerns years later.

Youth football is a family tradition for many, but this new study out of BU has found the longer a child waits to play football, the better it is for their brain.

“There's really something specific about hitting your head over and over again at a young age and it is disrupting normal brain development,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Michael Alosco, said.

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Researchers examined 214 amateur and professional football players and found those who started playing football before they were 12 years old were at higher risk for behavioral and cognitive problems.

“That's a critical period of brain development, especially in males,” said Alosco.

According to the study, the risks for behavioral problems doubled and the risk for elevated depression tripled.

Dr. Alosco told Boston 25 their findings revealed any injury to a child's brain could result in permanent damage.

“We're talking about those tiny hits to the head, over and over repeatedly that don't necessarily result in symptoms, but we think are enough to cause injury to the brain,” he explained.

Just earlier this summer, Boston 25 investigated the growing trend of youth flag football as many are families opting out of regular football because of health concerns.

“I just think it's a little too dangerous at their young age. They're so fragile,” parent Jeanine Hetzel said.

We asked Dr. Alosco whether he would recommend parents not let their child play youth football. He told us more research needs to be done, but he did say one thing.

“You just have to ask yourself: do you really want your young kid to go out there and start hitting their head at such a young age -- not even just football -- in anything,” said Dr. Alosco.

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