Summary: A new study looks at the long term neurological and mental health outcomes of people who participated in high school football teams. Researcher report playing football appears to not adverselt affect cognition or depressive symptoms later in life. They acknowledge the findings may not be generalized for modern players due to changes in play style, protective equipment and improved safety measures.
Source: JAMA Network.
In a study of men who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957, playing high school football was not adversely associated with cognitive impairment or depression later in life, according to an article published by JAMA Neurology.
High school football is a popular sport but its safety has been questioned, in part by reports of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, increased risks of neurodegenerative disease, and associations between a history of concussions and cognitive impairment and depression later in life among retired professional football players. Limited work has been done to examine playing high school football with cognitive impairment and depression later in life.
Dylan S. Small, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and coauthors used data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) of high school graduates in the state in 1957, which included information on high school football participation and cognitive psychological well-being assessments of participants later in life in their 50s, 60s and 70s. However, the WLS data doesn’t include history of concussion and total exposure to football before high school.
In the study of 3,904 men, high school football players were compared with their nonplaying counterparts and depression and cognitive impairment were assessed in their 60s and 70s using composite cognition and depression scores.
The authors report cognitive and depression outcomes later in life were similar for high school football players and those who did not play.
The authors acknowledge their findings may not be generalizable to current high school football players because of changes in playing style, training techniques, protective equipment and rules aimed at improving safety.
“Among men graduating from high school in Wisconsin in 1957, we did not find evidence that playing football had a negative long-term association with cognitive functioning and mental health at 65 and 72 years of age. Although our findings may not generalize to current high school football players, they may be relevant to current athletes playing contact sports with similar mean levels of head trauma as among the WLS football players. Repeating our analysis with a younger cohort as they reach 65 years of age may improve our understanding of how the risks of playing football have evolved over time,” the article concludes.
Source: JAMA Network
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Association of Playing High School Football With Cognition and Mental Health Later in Life” by Sameer K. Deshpande, BS; Raiden B. Hasegawa, BA; Amanda R. Rabinowitz, PhD; John Whyte, MD, PhD; Carol L. Roan, PhD; Andrew Tabatabaei; Michael Baiocchi, PhD; Jason H. Karlawish, MD; Christina L. Master, MD, CAQSM; and Dylan S. Small, PhD in JAMA Neurology. Published online July 3 2017 doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.1317
Association of Playing High School Football With Cognition and Mental Health Later in Life
Importance American football is the largest participation sport in US high schools and is a leading cause of concussion among adolescents. Little is known about the long-term cognitive and mental health consequences of exposure to football-related head trauma at the high school level.
Objective To estimate the association of playing high school football with cognitive impairment and depression at 65 years of age.
Design, Setting, and Participants A representative sample of male high school students who graduated from high school in Wisconsin in 1957 was studied. In this cohort study using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, football players were matched between March 1 and July 1, 2017, with controls along several baseline covariates such as adolescent IQ, family background, and educational level. For robustness, 3 versions of the control condition were considered: all controls, those who played a noncollision sport, and those who did not play any sport.
Exposures Athletic participation in high school football.
Main Outcomes and Measures A composite cognition measure of verbal fluency and memory and attention constructed from results of cognitive assessments administered at 65 years of age. A modified Center for Epidemiological Studies’ Depression Scale score was used to measure depression. Secondary outcomes include results of individual cognitive tests, anger, anxiety, hostility, and heavy use of alcohol.
Results Among the 3904 men (mean [SD] age, 64.4 [0.8] years at time of primary outcome measurement) in the study, after matching and model-based covariate adjustment, compared with each control condition, there was no statistically significant harmful association of playing football with a reduced composite cognition score (–0.04 reduction in cognition vs all controls; 97.5% CI, –0.14 to 0.05) or an increased modified Center for Epidemiological Studies’ Depression Scale depression score (–1.75 reduction vs all controls; 97.5% CI, –3.24 to –0.26). After adjustment for multiple testing, playing football did not have a significant adverse association with any of the secondary outcomes, such as the likelihood of heavy alcohol use at 65 years of age (odds ratio, 0.68; 95% CI, 0.32-1.43).
Conclusions and Relevance Cognitive and depression outcomes later in life were found to be similar for high school football players and their nonplaying counterparts from mid-1950s in Wisconsin. The risks of playing football today might be different than in the 1950s, but for current athletes, this study provides information on the risk of playing sports today that have a similar risk of head trauma as high school football played in the 1950s.
“Association of Playing High School Football With Cognition and Mental Health Later in Life” by Sameer K. Deshpande, BS; Raiden B. Hasegawa, BA; Amanda R. Rabinowitz, PhD; John Whyte, MD, PhD; Carol L. Roan, PhD; Andrew Tabatabaei; Michael Baiocchi, PhD; Jason H. Karlawish, MD; Christina L. Master, MD, CAQSM; and Dylan S. Small, PhD in JAMA Neurology. Published online July 3 2017 doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.1317