New research flies in the face of the commonly-held belief that youth flag football is safer than tackle.
kids playing flag football
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It's hard to believe, but according to a new study out of the University of Iowa Health Care, injuries are more likely to occur in youth flag football than youth tackle football.

Researchers looked at three youth football leagues in eastern Iowa, with about 3,800 participants in second through seventh grades, and determined that it isn't tackling that makes the difference in terms of the likelihood for injuries. Indeed, the study, which is published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, found that contrary to popular belief, flag football is not less dangerous than tackle.

"We wanted to test the hypothesis that not allowing tackling might reduce the risk for injury in young athletes," explained the study's lead author, Andrew Peterson, M.D. "Based upon our results, we cannot conclude that youth flag football is safer than youth tackle football."

For the purposes of the study, an injury was classified as "anything that causes someone to miss time," Dr. Peterson told More kids playing flag football missed time after an injury, which could have to do with the kinds of kids and parents who participate. Interestingly, there was no significant difference in the number of severe injuries and concussions between the flag and tackle football leagues.

It's worth noting that the number of injuries in youth football is relatively low, all things considered. As Dr. Peterson explained, for a full season, a player has just a 3 percent chance of being injured. But we already know that sports-related injuries are the leading cause of injury among children and teens. Concussions are especially concerning, given their potential long-term health effects.

"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 Dr. Peterson. But he told that the takeaway from the study is not that parents should be afraid to enroll their kids in flag or tackle football; in fact, it's quite the opposite. Again, youth sports are relatively safe. Parents should just know that "flag may not be a safer alternative." He recommends evaluating what program is better in your own community.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.