New Study Finds Playing Football Before Age 12 Increases Chances to Develop Brain Problems

Research from Boston University's CTE Center found playing football before age 12 increased likelihood of cognitive and behavioral problems.
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A new study released Tuesday found that people who played football before age 12 were more likely to to have impaired mood and behavior than people who began playing at an older age.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center and appears in Nature's Translational Psychiatry, looked at 214 former football players, and found that playing football before age 12 doubled the risk to have "problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive functioning," and tripled the risk of "clinically elevated depression scores."

Of the 214 former players, 43 played through high school, 103 played through college and the other 68 played in the NFL. The researchers found that "increased risk was independent of the total number of years the participants played football, the number of concussions they reported," and the highest level of football the participants played.

They used 12 as the cutoff age because of key brain development that occurs in males between 10 and 12, but the researchers found that an earlier age of first exposure to football was connected to worse clinical function.

Timeline: Six Studies of Head Trauma in Football That Helped Establish Link to CTE

The researchers used phone interviews and online surveys to collect their information and only examined behavioral changes in this study. The study did not look at physical changes to the brain, although Boston University's CTE Center has done other research examining physical effects to the brain related to football.

In July, the Center announced the results of a study in which they found CTE in 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players that were examined.

Recently, more and more former players have come forward and said they will donate their brains for further research, including Warren Sapp, Matt Hasselbeck, Leonard Marshall and Frank Wycheck.