New study links youth football to cognitive problems later in life

Participation in youth football took a serious hit in recent years, and a new study's findings may not improve the situation.

The report, published in the Translational Psychiatry journal, suggests those who play tackle football before age 12 are at an increased risk for cognitive and behavioral problems later in life.

And the study says that holds true even if the player displayed no symptoms of concussions.

The study looked at 214 former amateur and professional football players with no other contact sport experience. They found that those who began playing before they turned 12 were likelier to experience depression, apathy and behavioral control issues. And the earlier they were exposed to the sport, the worse the symptoms were.

SEE MORE: This New Helmet Could Be A Game Changer In Football Safety

Youth football participation has been steadily declining ever since the NFL acknowledged that concussions can have lasting effects on players in 2009. Youth participation dropped by almost 30 percent over the next 5 years.

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ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 12: Scooter Gennett #4 of the Cincinnati Reds dives for the ball against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on September 12, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: Marc-Andre Ter Stegen of FC Barcelona blocks the ball during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group D match against Juventus on September 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers is tackled by Eric Reid #35 of the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on September 10, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission with alternate crop.) Ronald Jones II #25 of the USC Trojans flips into the end zone to score a fourth quarter touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Manchester City's Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus (L) vies vies for the ball with Feyenoord's Dutch defender Miquel Nelom during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match between Feyenoord Rotterdam and Manchester City at the Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam, on September 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
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BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 13: Boog Powell #3 of the Oakland Athletics jumps for a double that was out of reach, hit by Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Boston Red Sox during the third inning at Fenway Park on September 13, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Sloane Stephens (L) of the US embraces compatriot Madison Keys after winning during their 2017 US Open Women's Singles final match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 9, 2017. Sloane Stephens, sidelined for 11 months by a left foot injury until returning in July, captured her first Grand Slam title by routing fellow American Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in Saturday's US Open final. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
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The degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, was recently found in 99 percent of deceased former NFL players tested.

Now youth organizations are trying to recoup some of their losses: USA Football recently unveiled Rookie Tackle, a combination of traditional football and flag football designed to ease younger players into full-blown tackle football.

But the recent study might intensify the debate over whether kids should play tackle football at all. One of its authors told The New York Times: "The brain is going through this incredible time of growth between the years of 10 and 12, and if you subject that developing brain to repetitive head impacts, it may cause problems later in life."

Researchers say more long-term studies about youth football could help inform policy and safety decision-making in the future.

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