Player’s Health: New study to examine soccer’s long-term health risks

Player’s Health: New study to examine soccer’s long-term health risks

Editor’s Note: US Club Soccer is proud to introduce Player’s Health to its members. Player’s Health is a Players First partner advancing the pillars of Player Health & Safety and Parent Engagement & Education.

By Matthew Cox | Player’s Health

In response to some of the recent eye-opening stories and research findings connecting soccer to serious long-term health effects, a new study – conducted by the Football Association (FA) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) in England – will seek to assess the prevalence and severity of degenerative brain diseases associated with playing soccer. According to an ABC News report, this study – “Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk” (FIELD) – will commence next month and be spearheaded by an independent research team in Scotland.

While many of the more prominent headlines in recent months highlight the broader domain of concussion-related risks in soccer, this specific study was inspired by a new BBC documentary that covered the tragic death of former English footballer Jeff Astle in 2002. The film, presented by former captain of the England national team Alan Shearer, pointed to headed balls as a key contributor in Astle developing dementia, one of the known health conditions associated with repeated head trauma. It’s important to note that dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a medical term used to describe a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is the most common symptom of dementia, which explains why Alzheimer’s disease accounts for roughly 60-80 percent of all dementia-related cases.

The FIELD study researchers will look to specifically address the following question: “Is the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease more common in ex-professional footballers than in the normal population?”

The study will analyze about 15,000 former professional soccer players and build off a recently concluded multi-year research effort led by the FA and PFA, which laid the foundation for this next step in the methodical process aimed to bring clarity to so many of the questions hovering over the dangers of soccer. But much like the research efforts related to understanding American football’s relationship to concussions here in the United States, the FA study is expected to take 2-3 years to produce meaningful results. In the interim, PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor is requesting that headed balls be banned from youth soccer for all kids under the age of 11 years old.

Editor’s Note: Here’s what U.S. Soccer and US Club Soccer have implemented regarding heading – including a ban on heading for players 11 years and younger and limited heading for players in 12-U and 13-U programming – and a variety of health issues.

Additional parallels between the NFL and the FA can be drawn in the underlying momentum applying pressure on these large-scale research efforts. While the NFL has been under the microscope for their questionable handling of the concussion epidemic associated with American football, the FA has been under similar scrutiny for an alleged lack of transparency and accountability related to the truth about soccer’s contribution to dementia and other degenerative brain diseases.

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