Research News

Study by UW alum Stamm points to potential risks of playing football under age 12

January 30, 2015

UW-Madison alumna Julie Stamm is the lead author of a new study out of the Boston University School of Medicine that points to a possible increased risk of cognitive impairment from playing youth football.

Stamm is a Ph.D. candidate in anatomy and neurobiology, and is part of the research team at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. She received her undergraduate degree from UW-Madison’s Athletic Training Program, which is housed in the Department of Kinesiology, in 2009.

Julie Stamm
According to a news report out of Boston University, “the National Institutes of Health–funded study, published online in the Jan. 28 edition of the journal Neurology, finds that former National Football League players who participated in tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have memory and thinking problems as adults. The study contradicts conventional wisdom that children’s more plastic brains might recover from injury better than those of adults, and suggests that they may actually be more vulnerable to repeated head impacts, especially if injuries occur during a critical period of growth and development.”

“Sports offer huge benefits to kids, as far as work ethic, leadership, and fitness, and we think kids should participate,” Stamm tells BU Today. “But there’s increasing evidence that children respond differently to head trauma than adults. Kids who are hitting their heads over and over during this important time of brain development may have consequences later in life.”

Senior author Robert Stern, a MED professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and anatomy and neurobiology, and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s Clinical Core, tells BU Today: “This is one study, with limitations. But the findings support the idea that it may not make sense to allow children—at a time when their brain is rapidly developing—to be exposed to repetitive hits to the head. If larger studies confirm this one, we may need to consider safety changes in youth sports.”

To learn more about this important new study, make sure and check out the entire article for free on the BU Today website.