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Study: Impact Tends to Be Lower for Youth Football Players

Researchers from Virginia Tech University released initial results from the first-ever study of the protective capabilities of child football helmets today, although the researchers will continue to collect data.

The study has been assessing the force of impacts sustained by helmets being worn by 6- to 8-year-old football players on a local team near Virginia Tech.

The frequency of the most severe impacts in youth football was "substantially lower" than in adult football, said Stefan Duma, professor of biomedical engineering, in a statement. Youth football players also often endured much less severe hits than their adult counterparts.

That said, the researchers did discover that a few of the impacts were "approaching impact levels associated with concussion in adult football players."

Given the fragility of youths' brains, that finding should give anyone pause.

The same researchers worked on a project earlier this year to assess how well adult football helmets would reduce the risk of concussions. They equipped the helmets of the Virginia Tech football team with accelerometers (an instrument that measures the force of impacts) back in 2003 and studied eight years worth of data to develop their ratings.

That project led to the creation of the National Impact Database, another first-of-its-kind, which uses the STAR Evaluation System to rate the safety standards of adult helmets.

But those same findings couldn't be applied to youth helmets, Duma said, "because the impact conditions of youth football are completely unknown."

As a result, Duma and his team will continue to run their study with a local youth football team, similar to the one done with the Virginia Tech college players.

The helmets of the Auburn Eagles, a youth team of 6- to 8-year-olds, will each be equipped with 12 accelerometers. Every time one of the players sustains a hit against his helmet, the data are wirelessly transferred to a computer on the sideline.

Thus far, the researchers have collected and analyzed data of more than 400 head impacts from the youths. Virginia Tech had to buy new helmets for the entire team, as their old helmets weren't compatible with the accelerometers.

"The kids are very excited about wearing the same technology in their helmets that the Virginia Tech football team has worn over the last eight years," said Ray Daniel, a graduate student at Virginia Tech whose master's thesis will focus on this study.

"The parents, kids, and coaches have been very cooperative and are all excited about being part of this important study that will lead to better design guides for youth football helmets," Daniel added.

Considering that a high school football player in New York died this past weekend as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by football, there's no understating how critical it will be to have a national database ranking the safety standards of youth football helmets.

Anything that can better protect the brains of young athletes should be pursued at virtually all cost, given what's at stake.

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