Helmet safety study to track youth football players for 5 years

WASHINGTON — A national study looking at youth football players and head impacts will take five years, but the result will be safer and lighter helmets for younger players.

“We know very little about youth football,” says Stefan Duma, with Virginia Tech, who is leading the research.  He’s a helmet safety expert and department head of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Tech.

Duma says they have data on college and high school football.

“This big issue we’re looking at is how we better understand youth football so we can make it safer.  We have 13 years of data on a dozen colleges across the country.  College football, as far as (head impact) exposure, is very well understood and documented and published,” says Duma.

The $3.3 million study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will track head impacts with data coming from helmet and mouth guard sensors on younger players.

“So if we want to make recommendations on youth football, we need to collect a sizable amount of data first,” says Duma.

The study is focusing on 9- and 10-year-old football players on six teams in three states. The NIH-funded study is what’s called a bioengineering research partnership, which allows researchers to take a bigger sample across the country.

“So we’ll have two youth teams here at Virginia Tech, two teams at Wake Forest and two teams at Brown.  We’ll track these kids for five years,” says Duma.

Duma says younger football players now wear helmets designed for adults, which kids find pretty heavy. But when the research is completed and studied, the new helmets will be custom-designed for kids, and be safer and lighter.

“Five years from now we’ll have a very large data set — the largest ever created on youth football.  That’s going to give us the ability to look at player (head impact) exposure.  Then we can look at that to optimize the helmet,” says Duma.

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