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No Clear Cut Answers for Parents

That puts parents in a difficult position, because there are no clear answers about the extent of the risks their child faces when he suits up for a football game.

“I have families who are constantly asking me about these things,” Gioia says. “We take the research we have and try to apply it to their kids as best we can, but we can only make educated guesses.”

Making matters more complicated is the fact that different kids likely have different injury thresholds. Some may be able to withstand more hits than others.

But, says Gioia, “More hits [are] probably worse.”

Michael Bergeron, PhD, says our understanding and appreciation of head injuries is growing rapidly, and he’s hopeful that that will lead to safer play for boys and girls in all sports.

“We have better methods, better science to reinforce the new understanding that the single blow idea of concussions is too simple,” says Bergeron, a pediatrics professor at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine and executive director of the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute. “In this study, they are showing that there are neurophysiological changes and suggesting a deficit in neurophysiological health. These changes imply that.”

Bergeron describes himself as a big fan of youth sports, but he is concerned that games have evolved in such a way that they no longer promote health and fitness.

“A parent has to carefully consider a sport like football,” he says. “The brain is the most important organ, but kids taking 50 to 60 hits to the head per game is typical. But when you talk about changing the way the game is played, people accuse you of trying to ‘wussify’ the sport. ... The focus should be on the kids and on fun and fitness, not on the violence of the game.”

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