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Study: US parents support age restrictions on football tackling

A majority of U.S. parents prefer age restrictions on tackling in football, according to a new study out of UW Medicine.

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“We were asking parents about various different policies that have been thought about as ways of making sports safer,” said Sara Chrisman, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatric and adolescent medicine at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. “One of which is limiting high-risk contact like tackling to older youth. About 60 percent were in support of those kinds of age limits.”

UW Medicine took part in a study titled “Parents’ Perspectives Regarding Age Restrictions for Tackling in Youth Football.” The study was published in the journal Pediatrics, and states that researchers surveyed a representative sample of US parents (1,025 total) about their support for age restrictions on tackling in football. It concludes:

The majority (61 percent) supported age restrictions for tackling, and an additional 24% indicated they maybe would support age restrictions. For female respondents, a greater perceived risk of tackle football and greater educational attainment were associated with greater odds of supporting age restrictions for tackling. For male respondents, having a child 6 to 12 years old was associated with greater odds of maybe supporting age restrictions for tackling.

“There has not been any age limits on tackling; there are a few states that have thought about this as a possibility to mitigate risks for youth playing football,” Chrisman said. “… hockey has been on the leading edge of some of these kinds of change, to make hockey safer. That’s come out of some really nice work done in Canada by the researchers up there. So they’ve actually  limited body checking to kids that are 13 and older. And more recently there has been some similar changes in soccer where they have limited heading to kids that are 11 and older.”

Also from UW Medicine:

A few states have proposed or are proposing age restrictions on tackling in football. Some state proposals did not specify an exact age, others have proposed that the youth participants be at least 12, still others, 14, and one suggested that the youngsters be in grade 8 or above.

Chrisman was a senior investigator on the study, along with Stanley Herring clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine and co-founder of the Sports Institute at UW Medicine, and Fred Rivara, professor of pediatrics and a researcher at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.

According to UW Medicine, nearly half of all football injuries happen while tackling. The study comes amid growing concern over concussions and other long-term injuries. Football is among one of the most common sports for boys in America — about five million youth participate annually.

“Sports are a really important way for kids to get exercise, have fun, they have social support, they have structure,” Chrisman said. “But all sports have a cost/benefit ratio. And I feel like our job as pediatricians, as public health researchers, is to try to make sports safer so kids can participate. I think parents are in support of that.”

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