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Youth flag football may not be safer than tackle football, study says
Concerns about the rate of concussions among athletes and the long-term effects of repeated head injuries has produced lots of discussion and debate about whether children under the age of 12 should participate in contact sports such as tackle football.
Now, University of Iowa Health Care researchers report that the results of its study of injury rates in youth football leagues did not show that flag football is safer than tackle football – though the sample size for the study is small: Three youth football leagues (two tackle and one flag league) comprising 3,794 players participated in the study.
The tackle leagues featured 43 and 124 teams, respectively; while the flag football league contained 20 teams.
The research team compared the number of injuries, severe injuries and concussions in players competing on flag football teams and tackle football squads.
The results of the study, published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that injuries were more likely to occur in youth flag football than in youth tackle football. There was no significant difference in the number of severe injuries and concussions between the leagues.
"We wanted to test the hypothesis that not allowing tackling might reduce the risk for injury in young athletes," said Dr. Andrew Peterson, a specialist with UI Sports Medicine and the study's lead author. "Based upon our results, we cannot conclude that youth flag football is safer than youth tackle football."
Of the 128 injuries recorded, 54 happened to players on defense and 74 on offense. Of the 54 defensive injuries, 44 occurred in the tackle leagues and 10 in the flag league. Of the 74 offensive injuries, 71 happened in tackle leagues and 3 occurred in the flag league.
Of the 128 injures, 37 happened to linemen and 91 to non-linemen. All 37 injuries to linemen happened in the tackle leagues. Of the 91 non-linemen injuries, 78 happened in tackle leagues and 13 were in the flag league.
In comparing the injuries in tackle and flag football, time to return to play after an injury was much longer in the tackle leagues than in the flag leagues. Tackle football players suffer fewer injuries, but the injuries that do occur result in more lost playing time.
Researchers find that approximately two-thirds of all head impacts studied occurred during practice, while the percentage of high-magnitude impacts was higher in games
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