Traumatic Brain Injury on the Rise Among Girls—Here's What Parents Need To Know

A new study shows that everything from sports to home furnishings have been involved in an increasing number of traumatic brain injuries in people 19 and under, particularly girls.

Girl laying on floor hand on head with scratches
Photo: GettyI mages

More than 6 million school-aged children sustained traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, between 2000 and 2019, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

The authors looked at data from emergency department visits and found that more than 70% of non-fatal TBIs were linked to a consumer product, which includes home furnishings and sports like football. Overall, consumer product TBIs made up 12.3% of emergency department visits in 2019, an increase from 4.5% in 2000. The researchers also found that these TBIs declined in school-aged boys but increased in girls.

Overall, sports and recreation products were most commonly linked to TBIs (28%). Home furnishings (17%) and home structures and construction materials (17%) were also problematic.

But ultimately, the products contributing to TBIs varied by age group.

Here's a breakdown:

  • Home furnishings and fixtures were the most common products cited as contributing to TBIs in infants (42%), who are less able to participate in sports and recreational activities. Of these TBIs, a quarter involved beds.
  • Beds were also the furnishing most commonly associated with TBIs (6%) and were also linked with 10% of TBIs in children ages 1 to 4.
  • Sports and recreation products were linked to 32% of TBIs in children ages 5 to 9, 54% in children ages 10 to 14, and 38% in children ages 15 to 19.
  • Football contributed to about 6% of sports and recreation-related TBIs. Bicycling and basketball were also frequently cited.

There's been heavy debate in recent years over whether children should play football as people became more aware of the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a result of repeated hits to the head, on formal football players like former New York Jets wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Some parents and experts believe football can help build character and friendships, while others are wary of it. Youth tackle football participation has declined sharply in recent years, which may have led to the decrease in TBIs in boys.

Still, numbers are increasing overall, and football isn't the only culprit. Though there's no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a policy statement about the importance of wearing them, citing research that showed bike riding caused about 26,000 pediatric trips to the emergency room each year.

The AAP stressed the importance of wearing a well-fitting helmet designed for the activity in which a person is participating. The AAP recommends them for several sports and activities, including but not limited to bicycling, football, skateboarding, snowboarding and skiing, and equestrian sports.

Parents can model safety by wearing a helmet when participating in these activities with their children.

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