For parents of young athletes, here’s some good news: Kids who play football and other contact sports are no more likely to have cognitive problems in early childhood than those who don’t play sports.
The recent findings by University of Colorado researchers undercuts a common perception that contact sports and the resulting head injuries inevitably lead to mental health and cognition issues. But the researchers found no such correlation among adolescents and young adults.
To establish their findings, the scientists reviewed nationwide data from more than 10,000 children in seventh through 12th grades who had undergone regular testing and interviews since 1994. Athletes and non-athletes were separated into two groups. After controlling for variables that included education, race and family wealth, researchers analyzed the children’s performance on memory-related tests and experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts.
There were no significant cognitive or emotional differences between those who played sports and those who did not. In fact, the athletes and non-athletes appeared to be much the same later in life.
Some of the other findings almost appeared counterintuitive: Football players reported fewer instances of depression in early adulthood than other groups.
The latest study is among the largest of its kind and looked at those who played football in the 1990s. It builds on an earlier study by the University of Pennsylvania that found no higher rate of cognitive impairment among 3,000 athletes who played high school football in the late 1950s.
All of this may give parents a little less to worry about when their child pulls on a football helmet or a hockey sweater.