AUSTIN (KXAN) — New preliminary research from the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas suggests a single season of football may impact the brain development of kids and teenagers.  

Researchers put sensors in the helmets of 60 youth football players and studied the results of high-impact hits to the head. Of the 60 players, 24 were placed in the category of high cumulative head impact players and 36 were placed in the category of low cumulative head impact players.

After one football season, the researchers looked at the MRI’s of all the players and found changes to the brain in the category of the kids who were repeatedly hit in the head.

None of the study participants suffered a concussion but researchers did find  more gray matter in the brains of those 24 players with hard-hits to the head, suggesting a delay in the brain’s efficiency.
 Doctors say the more presence of gray matter shows the brain is not “pruning” normally in a way that is critical in kids and teenagers.  

For perspective, KXAN sat down with Dr. E. Steve Roach, Chief of Pediatric Neurosciences at Dell Children’s Medical Center & Neurology Professor at Dell Medical School, “the whole pruning is when you mature, the brain tends to settle into its way of behaving and functioning. You get rid of some needless parts and the brain gets more efficient. What they are seeing in this study is that may be disrupted,” he says. 

Dr. Roach says it’s too early to tell if the delay will lead to behavioral, cognitive or personality changes, “there is no guarantee that just because you have some changes on an MRI that that necessarily means you have some dysfunction but that’s a concern.” He says more long-term research is needed on how the youth football impacts a player’s brain development early in life, “the brain develops throughout childhood and adolescence there is a belief that an injury to a brain that is developing is more damaging say than the same kind of force in a brain that is already developed,” he says, “so whether these changes are rather troubling or the beginning of some long-term issue, I think remains to be seen,” explains Dr. Roach.

When asked if parents and young players should be concerned with the preliminary findings, “that’s a very difficult question especially in central Texas with football so big. There are several million children in adolescent in the united states that play contact football and I think it raises some issues,” says Dr. Roach.