By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) – Even though there are no age restrictions on tackling in youth football in the U.S., a new survey suggests most parents would support rules prohibiting this for younger players because of the injury risk.

While there are many physical and mental health benefits of playing youth sports and the risk of concussions is relatively low, as many as 1.9 million kids ages five to 18 get concussions from sports and other recreational activities each year, researchers note in Pediatrics. Many young athletes recover without lasting problems, but kids who suffer repeated head injuries and get hurt at younger ages can be more likely to have long-term challenges with academics, cognitive skills, and behavioral and emotional health, some previous research suggests.

Other popular youth sports recommend against certain plays that carry a high risk of concussions. Ice hockey discourages body checking for players under 13, for example, and soccer recommends against heading for players under 11.

“The goal of restricting tackling to older youth would be to decrease the risk of injury, by decreasing exposure to collisions until youth are older and more adept at controlling their bodies in space,” said lead study author Dr. Sara Chrisman of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute at the University of Washington.

“It’s similar to the idea of graduated driving laws,” Chrisman said by email. “Driving itself may not be dangerous, but exposure to driving increases the risk of getting into a crash.”

Chrisman and colleagues examined data from a nationally representative sample of 1,025 American parents and found 61 percent supported similar age restrictions for tackle football. Another 24 percent said they “maybe” would support age restrictions.

Despite this broad approval for the idea of setting a minimum age for playing tackle football, the study still found some variation in responses based on parent characteristics.

Overall, 63 percent of mothers and 58 percent of fathers supported age restrictions for tackle football.

Among female survey participants, women who perceived tackling as a high-risk maneuver on the field were almost four times more likely to support restrictions, the study found.

And women with higher levels of education were also about four times more likely to support age restrictions for tackle football than women with less education.

Among male respondents, having a child six to 12 years old was associated with more than twice the likelihood of supporting age restrictions for tackle football.

The study can’t tell whether or how age restrictions might impact the number of injuries or concussions in youth football. It’s also not clear how parents would feel if age restrictions impacted youth football rules in their own communities, or for children already playing the sport.

“The current study did not consider if the parents already have kids playing football, if their kids have sustained a concussion or other injury from tackling, or if they played football themselves- factors that would likely influence their opinions,” said Anthony Kontos, research director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

“What is most important is that we continue to educate parents about concussion and balance that education so as not to create undue fear of contact sports that might result in parents precluding their kids from playing youth sports and being physically active,” Kontos, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “Also, we need to highlight to parents and young athletes the importance of seeking proper treatment if they think they have a concussion, whether it involved tackling or not.”

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2HTPj0b Pediatrics, online April 1, 2019.