Study rules out contact sports as a factor for cognitive and mental health problems during adult life
A study has shown that those who played contact sports during their adolescence and teenage years are not at a greater risk of experiencing cognitive impairment, depression or suicidal thoughts in early adulthood than their peers.
The new study by University of Colorado Boulder involved analysis of more than 11,000 youth over a period of 14 years and its findings have been published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.
There have been a number of studies that have linked sport-related concussion among former professional football players to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), cognitive decline and mental health issues later in life. These studies and their findings led many to question the safety of youth tackle football, and participation is declining nationally. But few studies have looked specifically at adolescent participation in contact sports.
The new study analyzed data from 10,951 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), a representative sample of youth in seventh through 12th grades who have been interviewed and tested repeatedly since 1994.
Participants were categorized into groups: those who, in 1994, said they intended to participate in contact sports; those who intended to play non-contact sports; and those who did not intend to play sports. Among males, 26% said they intended to play football.
After controlling for socioeconomic status, education, race and other factors, the researchers analyzed scores through 2008 on word and number recall and questionnaires asking whether participants had been diagnosed with depression or attempted or thought about suicide.
Football players – for reasons that are not clear – actually had a lower incidence of depression in early adulthood than other groups.
Those who reported they did not intend to participate in sports at age 8 to 14 were 22% more likely to suffer depression in their late 20s and 30s.