Children who begin playing tackle football before the age of 12 have a higher probability of enduring emotional issues in adulthood than if those who took up the sport later, according to a new study.
The findings, from a long-term study at Boston University, will likely add to mounting concerns among American parents about letting their children take part in football at a young age.
The study of more than 200 adults found that those who started playing before 12 had more than three times the risk for signs of depression and double of the chance of "clinically meaningful impairments" to behavior, according to the findings presented in the journal Nature's Translational Psychiatry.
U.S. & World
Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.
One of the co-authors told STAT.com that the study has a "ton of limitations," but the study itself presents football as a potentially dire risk to players.
"Overall, this study provides further evidence that playing youth American football may have long-term clinical implications, including behavioral and mood impairments," according to the report.
The study adds to mounting evidence linking football with brain injuries and emotional issues for current and former players due to head trauma involved in the game's many hits to the head.
"When do we ask ourselves, 'Does it make sense for my kid to be hitting his head several hundred times per season?'" Dr. Robert A. Stern, one of the co-authors and a Boston University scientist, told STAT.com.
Beyond the findings, the report called for more testing to further explore the effects on playing football and whether changes to the sport are necessary.
"Youth exposure to football may have long-term neurobehavioral consequences," the study concluded. "Additional research studies, especially large cohort longitudinal studies, are needed to better understand the potential long-term clinical implications of youth American football to inform policy and safety decision-making."
Its release comes on a day when the much-publicized class action lawsuit involving thousands of former NFL players and the professional football league was back in court in Philadelphia. A federal judge with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania heard from one of the attorneys for more than 20,000 former pros. A $1 billion settlement that was agreed to last year is set to provide thousands with payouts from the league.
Yet the massive suit has remained bogged down by administrative and legal hurdles, according to reports since the payouts were set to begin in January.
One of the players' lead attorneys was expected to address U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Center City about concerns Brody has over the process, according to the Associated Press.