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Adolescents who play contact sports, including football, are no more likely to experience cognitive impairment, depression or suicidal thoughts in early adulthood than their peers, suggests a new University of Colorado Boulder study of nearly 11,000 youth followed for 14 years.
The study, published this month in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, also found that those who play sports are less likely to suffer from mental health issues by their late 20s to early 30s.
“There is a common perception that there’s a direct causal link between youth contact sports, head injuries and downstream adverse effects like impaired cognitive ability and mental health,” said lead author Adam Bohr, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology. “We did not find that.”
The study comes on the heels of several highly-publicized papers linking sport-related concussion among former professional football players to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), cognitive decline and mental health issues later in life. Such reports have led many to question the safety of youth tackle football, and participation is declining nationally.
“When people talk about NFL players, they are talking about an elite subset of the population,” said senior author Matthew McQueen, an associate professor of integrative physiology. “We wanted to look specifically at kids and determine if there are true harms that are showing up early in adulthood.”
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