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Kids should not stop playing sports, but they need safer, better equipment

This editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday:

Two recent reports are sure to give parents pause when it comes to their children’s participation in sports.

In August, an Oxford University-led team, composed of researchers from the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden, released a study of 1 million Swedes born between 1973 and 1985. The finding linked a brain injury — even a mild concussion — before the age of 25 to a 72 percent greater chance of death before the age of 36. Moreover, there were significantly higher rates of mental illness, educational difficulties and disability payments received for those who suffered a brain injury early in life.

In addition, a Blue Cross Blue Shield study found brain injuries are on the rise in youths playing sports in the United States. Since 2010, the number of sports-related concussions in athletes between the ages of 10 and 19 has risen by 71 percent, with football and soccer players being injured most often.

A two-pronged caveat to the Blue Cross study is that athletic participation among U.S. youth is at its highest level and head injuries today are much more likely to be reported than five to 10 years ago.

However, both studies are evidence of the significant danger of head injuries among young athletes. This makes the call for equipment makers to keep innovating and producing safer equipment even more urgent.

In addition, the studies highlight the importance of post-injury care. Doctors say that a key to preventing lifelong disability after suffering head trauma is to be consistent with long-term follow-up. The earlier damage is diagnosed, the easier it is for a doctor to treat.

Kids will not stop playing sports. And they should not. Sports are important for teaching how to work in a team environment and instilling discipline and commitment.

The imperative now is safe equipment. We need still more innovation that will protect our kids.

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