Two boys playing flag football

University of Iowa Health Care researchers report that the results of a study of injury rates in youth football leagues did not show that flag football is safer than tackle football.

Concerns about the rate of concussions among athletes and the long term effects of repeated head injuries lead to discussion that children under the age of 12 should not participate in contact sports such as tackle football.

The UI researchers studied three large youth football leagues with almost 3,800 participants. The research team compared the number of injuries, severe injuries, and concussions in players competing on flag football teams and tackle football squads.

The results of the study, published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that injuries were more likely to occur in youth flag football than in youth tackle football. There was no significant difference in the number of severe injuries and concussions between the leagues.

“We wanted to test the hypothesis that not allowing tackling might reduce the risk for injury in young athletes,” said Andrew Peterson, MD, a specialist with UI Sports Medicine and the study’s lead author. “Based upon our results, we cannot conclude that youth flag football is safer than youth tackle football.”

The researchers found that the number of injuries in youth football players is relatively low overall, but sports-related injuries remain the leading cause of injury among children and adolescents. About 2.8 million people between the ages of six and 14 participate in youth football in the U.S.

“We hope that this information will help families as they make decisions about a child’s participation in youth football, either in flag or tackle leagues, said Peterson.

The research team also included Adam Kruse, MS, Scott Meester, BS, Benjamin Reidle, BS, Tyler Slayman, MD, Todd Domeyer, MD, Joseph Cavanaugh, PhD, and Kyle Smoot, MD, a senior author on the study, formerly at the University of Iowa and currently at the University of Kentucky.

Related Medical Services