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Has Mississippi Youth Football Become Mind-Numbing?

Mississippi boys who play youth football probably incur at least a sliver of brain damage during any season, according to new national research.

A new study shows that it's the little head-shots that add up - not necessarily the notable concussions -to injure a youth’s developing brain.

More than 1 million youth nationally play football; solid numbers aren’t available for Mississippi alone, but the state’s second religion is practiced assiduously even down to the age of seven.

“Most investigators believe that concussions are bad for the brain, but what about hundreds of head impacts during a season of football that don’t lead to a clinically diagnosed concussion?” asked Dr. Christopher T. Whitlow, associate professor and chief of neurobiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in a report to the Radiological Society of North America..

Twenty-five players ages 8 to 13 were studied as researchers looked for “micro-structural changes” in the brain’s white matter.

The results? There was “a significant relationship between head impacts” and damaged white matter. “Football is a physical sport,” notes Whitlow, adding, “… players may have many physical changes after a season of play that completely resolve … with little consequence.”

A trend of dropping numbers among youth football players may have leveled out in recent years, experts say, but no significant upswing has occurred. "Unless we deal with these truths, we're not going to get past the dropping popularity of the sport and people dropping out of the sport," said Bailes, a former Pittsburgh Steelers neurosurgeon told ESPN in 2013. "We need to get it right."

The organization, Mississippi Youth Football, offers information to help prevent youth injuries. It stresses using the best equipment, especially with headgear, and teaching kids proper technique. The advisory sheet also offers a little physics to help assuage parents’ concerns, noting, “FORCE = mass X acceleration, and kids don’t generate much force.”

Whitlow says more research is needed to know how youth impacts affect long-term results.


Read more stories on Mississippi Matters, on our website.

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