The force of head impacts in youth football can be similar to high school and college but may not necessarily affect short-term neurological function in children, according to a study authored by Sanford Health’s Thayne Munce, Ph.D., and colleagues and published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Munce and the Sanford Sports Science Institute team in Sioux Falls monitored 22 local youth football players 11 to 13 years of age during a single season of 27 practices and nine games. Each player wore sensors in his helmet that measured head-impact frequency, magnitude, duration and location. Players were additionally screened prior to and after the season for select clinical measures like balance, visual reading speed, reaction time and self-reported symptoms.

More than 6,000 head impacts were recorded and found to be similar in magnitude and location to those in high school and college football but less frequent.

The study, “Head impact exposure and neurologic function of youth football players,” found head impacts that players sustained throughout the season were not associated with changes in neurologic function.

“The body of knowledge related to concussion and brain health in youth football players is limited; this is the first time associations between head impacts and neurologic function has been studied in this age group,” said Munce. “Because this area of research is relatively new, contributing noteworthy data on this population is incredibly valuable to further our understanding of this important health issue and positively impact the safety of the game.”

Munce is associate director of the Sanford Sports Science Institute, which conducts research, assesses athletes, provides current educational information and develops guidelines and policy for safe and appropriate exercise, training, and sports participation. The group’s studies on concussions and brain health in youth football have also appeared in the Journal of Child Neurology and the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise is the flagship monthly journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. It features original investigations, clinical studies and comprehensive reviews on current topics in sports medicine and exercise science.

Sanford Health is an integrated health system headquartered in the Dakotas and is now the largest, rural, not-for-profit health care system in the nation with locations in 126 communities in nine states. In addition, Sanford Health is in the process of developing international clinics in Ghana, Mexico and China.

Sanford Health includes 43 hospitals, 140 clinic locations and 1,360 physicians in 81 specialty areas of medicine. With more than 26,000 employees, Sanford Health is the largest employer in North Dakota and South Dakota. The system is experiencing dynamic growth and development in conjunction with nearly $1 billion in gifts from philanthropist Denny Sanford. These gifts are making possible the implementation of several initiatives, including global children's clinics, multiple research centers and finding cures for type 1 diabetes and breast cancer.