TBI-Related Deaths are Rising in High School Football

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Photo Credit: Rick Blumsack

The number of high school football players dying from traumatic brain injuries is gradually rising, according to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention citing two dozen deaths between 2005 and 2014.

Kristen Kucera, the lead author of the study conducted at the University of North Carolina, says these deaths are exceedingly rare given the large number of high school athletes participating in football. The rate is also significantly lower than in past decades. Still, the recent data shows the numbers are trending upward.

Whether the increase is due to more widespread awareness of brain injuries or better reporting, Kucera is unsure.

The majority of deaths occurred during games and were directly related to tackling or being tackled. This reinforces past research that suggests TBI-related deaths in football were most common among running backs and linebackers.

UNC has collected data on deaths and injuries related to high school and collegiate football since 1965. The data from 2005 to 2014 also recorded four deaths among college football players.

Any football players dying from brain trauma in high school or college football is cause for concern, but it is important to put these numbers in context. Approximately four times as many young football players died from head and spinal injuries from 1965 to 1974 compared to the latest report.

Kucera attributes this largely to improvements in medical care and new rules enacted in football leagues throughout the years, as well as new helmet safety standards.

The number of young football players dying from these injuries dropped significantly through the 1990’s but has been slowly rising since 2010.

“We want to see these numbers going down,” Kucera said.

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