Sports | September 20, 2017 9:03 am

Study: Playing Football Before the Age of 12 Could Cause Brain Problems Later

Boston University study focused on 214 former players, including 68 who went pro.

NFL Brain Study
Dr. Ann C. McKee, Director of Boston Universitys CTE Center and Chief of Neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, analyzes brain tissue at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston on May 31, 2017. Boston researchers who studied the brains of 202 deceased football players have published the most detailed portrait to date of the devastation wrought by a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head. The study presents the largest number of CTE cases ever published and puts to rest any remaining arguments about whether the disease exists, said McKee, the study's lead author. (Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

As The New York Times reports, a long-term study conducted by Boston University has revealed a troubling statistic: For football players who started playing before their 12th birthday, the potential for having more cognitive and behavioral problems later in life rose significantly.

The study was published in the journal Nature’s Translational Psychiatry, and focused on 214 former players—68 of whom played in the NFL. As the study notes, “participation in youth 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 reason why 12 was the cutoff age is that’s when the brain undergoes a key developmental and maturational period.

The study follows up one done by the university’s CTE Center, which studies the degenerative brain disease that’s been found in professional athletes such as football players. That study found that NFL players who started playing tackle football before their 12th birthday had worse memory and mental flexibility.