Football must consider stopping players from heading, implies Dr. Wille Stewart

Dr. Wille Stewart, a leading researcher into the link between dementia and sport, has called for football to consider abandoning headers after a new study showed the link between heading and neurodegenerative diseases. A new study reveals the ‘missing link’ between football and dementia.

Heading injuries have posed a serious problem in recent times in top tier leagues of European football. Most notably what comes to mind is David Luiz’s accidental head collision with Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Raul Jimenez, keeping him out for the entirety of last season. In light of recent developments, Dr Willie Stewart of the University of Glasgow has said the sport should now come with a warning regarding the dangers of heading in the sport over the course of a player’s career.

Dementia has proved to be a major risk factor among footballers with previous studies showing that footballers are more at risk of dying with dementia or other neurodegenerative diseases than the general population and Stewart says a new study published in the journal JAMA Neurology has provided an answer for the “missing link”.

“With the current data, we’re now at the point to suggest that football should be sold with a health warning saying repeated heading in football may lead to an increased risk of dementia. That’s where we are now, that cannot be ignored, In the previous study, we didn’t have sufficient data to be able to look at the important factor: exposure to football. What we could say last time was that being a footballer meant your risk of dying with a degenerative brain disease was higher, but we couldn’t say what in football was doing it,” Stewart said, reported by Goal.

“Now, through using our surrogates for exposure to heading and brain injury, which are field position and length of playing the game, we can see that if you’re in a position where you’re exposed to a high level of head impacts or you play the game longer, your risk is higher. The data from this paper is the missing link in trying to understand this connection between sport and dementia. We put that together with what we know about the mortality risk… and there really isn’t anything else.

“There is no other proposed risk factor and this is one we could really address and eliminate this disease. I think football has to ask the difficult questions: is heading absolutely necessary to the game of football? Is potential exposure to degenerative brain disease absolutely necessary? Or can some other form of the game be considered?” he added.

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