According to a new observational study published in The Lancet Public Health, elite male soccer players were one and a half times more likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases than the general population.
Approximately 9% of male soccer players in the Swedish top division were diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease– which accounts for 537 players out of 6,007.
This is higher than population controls, which see a 6% diagnosis rate– or approximately 3,485 people out of 56,168.
The research was conducted in the wake of mounting concern regarding head trauma exposure in the sport. The reality of soccer head trauma has also worried scientists and community members alike about whether the impacts could increase the risk of neurodegenerative disease late on in life.
A past study conducted in Scotland even suggested that soccer players were three and a half times more likely to experience neurodegenerative disease. And following this conclusion, some soccer associations began implementing measures to limit heading among younger age groups and in training settings.
“While the risk increase in our study is slightly smaller than in the previous study from Scotland, it confirms that elite soccer players have a greater risk of neurodegenerative disease later in life,” explained Peter Ueda, an assistant professor at the Karolinska Institutet.
“As there are growing calls from within the sport for greater measures to protect brain health, our study adds to the limited evidence base and can be used to guide decisions on how to manage these risks.”
The research used Sweden’s national health registers to search for neurodegenerative disease records among 6,007 male soccer players who competed between 1924 and 2019 in the Swedish top division.
The study compared each player’s risk of disease against population controls. The controls were matched with soccer plays according to age, gender, and region of residence.
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