NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Medical studies and their findings keep stacking up when it comes to the dangers of playing tackle football at a young age.
Researchers at Boston University found that playing football before age 12 increased the risk of problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive functioning by two-fold, and increased the risk of clinically elevated depression scores by three-fold.
The researchers chose the cutoff of age 12 because the brain undergoes a key period of development and maturation between the years 10-12 in males, according to the study.
"This study is one of many studies that are growing over time that shows, I think, what we probably all knew: that being knocked unconscious is not good for you and being knocked in the head is not good for you," LSU Health Head of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Dr. Martin Drell said.
In previous studies, the same researchers found that NFL players who played prior to age 12 had worse memory and mental flexibility, as well as structural brain changes on MRI scans, compared to former players who began at age 12 or older.
"We do know that insult to the brain at an early age is probably more impactful than at an older age," Drell said.
Drell believes parents should consider the elevated risk when deciding if their children should play, but he said it does not necessarily mean every child who plays will develop problems.
"Some families are more prone to have depression in them, so it might be that they need to think about it, and if the kid has ADHD already and is having trouble in school, maybe they need to think about it. Ultimately, what the parents need to know is to get the facts and do what we call a risk benefit analysis," Drell said.
"We're very mindful on watching our kids and making sure that we don't have any heroes out there," St. Augustine Head Football Coach Al Jones said.
Jones understands the increased risk of the game, especially as more studies show the prevalence of the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in players. One study found the disease in 110 out of 111 players.
Jones said many young men growing up in New Orleans see the game as the only way to better themselves and build character, and that can outweigh the risk.
"Everybody has their own vehicle that they ride to be successful in life. There is nothing wrong with football or athletics being one for the kids. I know it helped me out, and it helped a bunch of young men I've known personally," Jones said. "It's life. It's the game of life, and so I don't see how and why we should take that away."
Whether taking the game away is necessary lies solely with parents and their pediatricians, according to Dr. Drell.
"Are we going to have a world in which we make it so there's no danger in it when the world is a dangerous place? That balance is a difficult one," Drell said.
The Boston University researchers admit more studies are needed before any recommendations on policy or rule changes can be made. They also say there are still health and social benefits to participating in athletics during pre-adolescence.