Study links youth football to greater risk of later health problems

Two Marshall (Texas) Longhorns football players take a break during a practice in 2016. –Brandon Thibodeaux/The New York Times

Playing tackle football under the age of 12 exposes children to repetitive head impacts that may double their risk of developing behavioral problems and triple their chances of suffering depression later in life, according to a study published Tuesday in Nature magazine’s journal, Translational Psychiatry.

The research, conducted by Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, provides the most powerful evidence to date that playing contact football before age 12 may cause brain changes throughout life.

“This study adds to growing research suggesting that incurring repeated head impacts through tackle football before the age of 12 can lead to a greater risk for short- and long-term neurological consequences,’’ said Michael Alosco, the study’s lead author, a post-doctoral fellow at Boston University School of Medicine.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 1.23 million children between the ages of 6-12 played tackle football in 2015. —Dina Rudick/Globe Staff