Approximately one in five American teenagers say they’ve had at least one concussion in their life, and all indications suggest that contact sports like football are often the cause.
Those are the findings of an expansive study conducted from the University of Michigan aimed at assessing how common brain injuries are among teens and how these injuries may affect developing brains.
For the report published in the journal JAMA, a team of researchers surveyed over 13,000 U.S. students in grades 8, 10, and 12. Specifically, the survey asked, “have you ever had a head injury that was diagnosed as a concussion?”
According to the results, approximately 20% of teens said they’ve been diagnosed with at least one concussion and nearly 6% reported being diagnosed with more than one.
The authors of the study say they are the first to directly ask teenagers about their history of concussion, as most previous research relied on emergency room data. Emergency room data has been seen as an effective way to identify teens clinically diagnosed with brain injuries, however, it misses a large number of people who are diagnosed by their primary care physicians or other medical professionals.
“The prevalence of concussions may be much higher than what is reported from emergency room data,” explains study author Phil Veliz, an assistant research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender.
“There needs to be more attention to this topic,” Veliz says. “Concussions are quite common especially among adolescents. It needs to be tracked and monitored.”
The survey revealed that the teenagers most likely to experience a concussion were males in higher grades, especially those who participate in competitive sports.
While the researchers were not able to identify specifically how the teens got their concussion, the team notes that those playing contact sports were significantly more likely to have a history of brain injury. Approximately one in three teens playing contact sports had been diagnosed with a concussion at some point in their life.
“Parents and coaches are the people who should paying attention to these numbers,” says Veliz. “They should be aware that one in five experience a concussion and they should know the risks associated [with such head injury].”