The association between football participation in adolescence and mental health in early adulthood

Recommended citation: Deshpande, S.K., Hasegawa, R.B., Weiss, J., and Small, D.S. (2019). "The association between football participation in adolescence and mental health in early adulthood" (submitted).

Abstract :

Purpose: With rising concerns about poor mental health outcomes among former college and professional football players, investigations of former middle- and high-school players, a much larger affected population, is important. We study the effect of adolescent football participation on early adulthood mental health.

Methods : A nationally representative sample of American men enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health in 1994-1995 was studied. Football participants were matched to controls on several relevant baseline covariates. For robustness, two additional versions of the control condition were considered. The primary outcome is score on a variant of the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression (CES-D) scale measured in 2008, subjects aged 24 to 32. Scores ranged from 0 – 15, with higher scores indicating more depressive symptoms. Secondary outcomes include indicators of anxiety disorder diagnoses and alcohol dependence in early adulthood.

Results : Among the 2,197 men studied, the effect of adolescent football participation on CES-D score is a reduction of 0.22 (95% CI: -0.45, 0.02; 95% CI of effect size: -0.20, 0.01), providing evidence that football does not have a substantial harmful effect on depression. We found no evidence of adverse effects on mental and physical health secondary outcomes like anxiety disorder diagnosis (OR 0.93, 95% CI 0.54,1.62) and alcohol dependence (OR 1.15, 95% CI, 0.89, 1.49).

Conclusions : For men who were in grades 7 – 12 in the 1994-95 school year, participating or intending to participate in school football does not appear to be a major risk factor for early adulthood depression.

Our pre-analysis protocol is available here