Football-Playing Kids More Likely to Develop Chronic Conditions

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Dr. Bonnie comments on another reason to be extra careful concerning youth football leagues: 28 percent of kids who play the sport are injured, and recent research in Arthritis Today (September issue, pg 100) show that their joints are more susceptible to develop osteoporosis.

Twenty-eight percent of football playing kids, ages five to 14 are injured in the sport. Research in Arthritis Today (September issue, pg 100) says that injured joints are more likely to develop osteoporosis over the next couple of decades than joints that do not suffer these types of injuries. Family therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil urges people to make up with the sport - through extra safety measures and awareness - as opposed to breaking up with football altogether!

A previous article in USA Today addresses issues of concussions and safety, citing feedback from former NFL quarterback Kurt Wartner who says he'd prefer if his school-age sons didn't play football. And the father of Superbowl winner Tom Brady says he's not sure what he'd do if his son were just starting out (; if he were making the decision now he says he'd rather his son start later in his teen years than as young as elementary school.

Fortunately, Dr. Bonnie sees things heading in the right direction. "The NFL does it again," she says, "by providing warnings and preventions about how frequently hits should occur to prevent concussions - both with its own players and as a guideline for younger athletes." Brain studies of deceased NFL players who suffered from depression and dementia have found a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which may further illuminate the connection between the physical trauma of football and later emotional problems. Additionally, former NFL players continue to ask the League to take notice of issues that can cause concussions. With the death of players like Junior Seau - whose suicide may have been connected to depression he faced as a result of concussions he suffered during his time with the NFL - the League is turning something negative into something positive.

The NFL has always been focused toward kids and families, observes Dr. Bonnie, who speaks to her experience at the Superbowl each year where "there are monitors, experiences, and activities geared toward children and their parents." The NFL is aware that young kids engaging in a contact sport can be dangerous, and since the season for youth football is here, the League is taking a firm stand about safety and hoping parents take note. Dr. Bonnie recognizes that parents face a big dilemma when it comes to letting their children play.

"A child's brain isn't fully formed, even as a teenager," explains Dr. Bonnie, "which explains why they sometimes make poor choices. So how will playing in high school, college, or even youth football leagues affect brain development?" Concussions when brains aren't fully developed are particularly dangerous. A study done by Virginia Tech and Wake Forest found that "although youth league players have fewer and lower-magnitude head impacts than high school and college players, high-magnitude hits do occur, and most happen in practice," according to the study. New types of equipment are emerging to better protect players and to provide data on the number and types of hits they sustain.

The NFL has limited the number of hits allowed in practice, and hopefully schools and community leagues will follow suit. Dr. Bonnie advocates that football remain a part of the American fabric, but that the issues which come along with it are addressed. "The answer is not to get rid of football, but to change it to make it safer. Don't take it away from young kids - it teaches them how to get along, how to follow rules, to be consistent and how to healthily sublimate aggression and not act it out in a sadistic way." In a world where bullying has become such a prominent issue, it's very important for kids to learn how to deal with their anger and aggression in the correct way, says Dr. Bonnie. This is even a lesson being learned in the NFL, with the recent scandal concerning players who were getting paid to hurt opposing players and take them out of the game. "The important lesson for our kids," points out Dr. Bonnie, "is that it's not ok to bully - and football can help them release some of the emotions that might other wise lead to bullying experiences." In the same way as going for a run or working out can help sublimate anger, football can as well.

Dr. Bonnie says the game can be made safer and still be a great way to have family and friends get together. It gets men and boys - who are often quiet - to open up. That's something worth saving, she says!

To see Dr. Bonnie talking about the importance of the mind-body connection, and keeping our bodies safe, click here:, and check out her book Make Up Don't Break Up.

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