Research

Ex-footballers (soccer players) at greater risk of degenerative brain diseases
A landmark study funded by the charitable arm of the UK footballers’ union PFA and the Football Association has confirmed former professional footballers (soccer players) are much more likely to die of degenerative brain diseases compared to the general population. The University of Glasgow led FIELD study compared the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish male professional football players who were born between 1900 and 1976 against those of more than 23,000 matched individuals from the general population.

Commenting on the findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, lead author and consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart said former professional footballers had an approximately three and a half times higher rate of death due to neurodegenerative disease than expected. “This is the largest study to date looking in this detail at the incidence of neurodegenerative disease in any sport, not just professional footballers,” he said. “This analysis revealed that risk ranged from a 5-fold increase in Alzheimer’s disease, through an approximately 4-fold increase in motor neurone disease, to a 2-fold Parkinson’s disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls.”

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said: “The PFA co-funded FIELD, alongside the FA. It is now incumbent on football globally to come together to address this issue in a comprehensive and united manner. Research must continue to answer more specific questions about what needs to be done to identify and reduce risk factors.” He added: “Our members’ wellbeing is of paramount importance to us, and we are committed to representing their voice as this conversation opens up across football’s stakeholders.”
Read more: PFA news release. University of Glasgow news release and FIELD study webpages.
Daniel F Mackay and others. Neurodegenerative disease mortality among former professional soccer players, [abstract] New England Journal of Medicine, 21 October 2019. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1908483 Related NEJM editorial.

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