Study finds no enhanced cognitive risk from playing high school football

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The prevalence of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy in former NFL players has sparked concern that current and former football players at all levels are facing increased risk of cognitive problems later in life. A recent study from JAMA Neurology suggests that there is no enhanced risk for former high-school football players.

Data from a comprehensive study of more than 3,900 Wisconsin men who graduated high school in 1957 revealed that “there was no statistically or clinically significant harmful association between playing football in high school and increased cognitive impairment or depression later in life, on average.”

This means that, for men who attended high school in the mid-to-late-1950s, playing high school football “did not appear to be a major risk factor for later-life cognitive impairment or depression.”

It’s an encouraging development for current and former high school football players, especially in light of the advances in helmet technology and the sensitivity to player health and safety. Even if those advances are balanced by players being bigger, stronger, and faster in 2017 (and thus the collisions entailing greater force), the study indicates that a history of playing high school football did not result in an increase in cognitive problems in comparison to those who didn’t play.

Of course, none of this means anything to current and former college and professional players. Common sense would suggest that continued exposure to head trauma beyond high school (and beyond college) is more likely to trigger cognitive issues. However, to the extent some have suggested that any current or former football player at any level is assuming the risk of enhanced cognitive issues later in life, this study cuts against such claims.

7 responses to “Study finds no enhanced cognitive risk from playing high school football

  1. There are big rewards to compensate for risks taken by adults in the college and pro games.
    The high school feeder system is the place where football is at risk so these results are a pleasant surprise.

  2. Encouraging…for those who played back in the days when conditioning mattered more than maxing out the size/speed/strength ratio.

    The average size of an NFL O-lineman in the ’50’s was 6’2, 234 lbs. I don’t have access to the full text of the article to see if it mentions average size of the players in question (it wasn’t mentioned in the abstract), but the headline given here seems a bit rosy considering some very, VERY key variables have changed in the past 60 years.

    Still, you can’t fake time, so we won’t have the answers to long-term studies conducted with a more relevant sample for decades. So props for them for conducting this research in the first place.

  3. That is good news, but not unexpected. Seems pretty clear that it’s the cumulative effect of the impacts that leads to the CTE issues.

    And the biggest, fastest players, who got the most reps in high school (and Pop Warner), and whose collisions were the most violent are the ones who went on to play in college, so they wouldn’t be included in this study.

  4. Why are other sports not ever included in these discussions? Soccer … especially headballs … hockey … lacrosse … any and all combat sports. How come?

  5. Here’s is my theory and continue to use it as your own…

    Playing surface has as much or more to do with the brain and body injuries these players are dealing with.

    Anyone of you can go look at the playing surface from the Vet, Astrodome or anywhere else from the 70’s through the early 90’s. Whenever those players were hit, tackled, fell backwards, knees when to the ground first… they hit CONCRETE. Pavement with a 1/4 of green plastic outdoor grass like you get at the hardware store.

    This is not diminishing the dangers of football bc they are real.. They used to hit too much on 2-a days, and offseason, and hid concussions, or didn’t know how to diagnose them.. those are way real.

    I watch the older films from 30-40 years ago.. those heads and knees hitting that hard concrete that many times was awful…(and i loved football)

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