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College football players: Underestimating risk of injury and concussion

College football players may underestimate their risk of injury and concussion, according to a new study published today in JAMA Network Open.

Christine Baugh, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and member of the CU Center for Bioethics and Humanities, is the corresponding author of the article, “Accuracy of US College Football Players’ Estimates of Their Risk of Concussion or Injury.”

Baugh and co-authors report on survey results of 296 college football players from four teams in the Power 5 Conferences of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Athletes were surveyed in 2017. The researchers found that between 43 percent and 91 percent of respondents underestimated their risk of injury and between 42 percent and 63 percent underestimated their risk of concussion.

To measure the accuracy of football players’ risk estimations, the researchers modeled individual athletes’ probabilities of sustaining a concussion or injury and compared model estimates to athlete perceptions. While recognizing that many people underestimate health risks, the authors point out that the risks college football athletes face may be more severe or debilitating than those faced by many in the general population.


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Given this elevated risk profile, they say it is concerning that athletes tend to underestimate the likelihood of these risks. These results raise questions about informed consent and how much risk should be acceptable in the context of a game, Baugh and her co-authors write.

“That athletes underestimated their risk of concussion and injury in this study raises important ethical considerations,” Baugh and her colleagues write. “What is the threshold for college athletes to be sufficiently informed of the risks and benefits of football to make decisions that align with their values and preferences?”

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Source

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Journal Reference

Accuracy of US College Football Players’ Estimates of Their Risk of Concussion or Injury

Abstract

Importance Despite increased concern about the health consequences of contact sports, little is known about athletes’ understanding of their own risk of sports-related injury.

Objective To assess whether college football players accurately estimate their risk of concussion and nonconcussion injury and to identify characteristics of athletes who misestimate their injury risk.

Design, Setting, and Participants In this survey study, questionnaires were given to 296 current college football players on 4 teams from the 3 of the 5 most competitive conferences of the US National Collegiate Athletic Association. Surveys were conducted between February and May 2017. Data were analyzed from June 2017 through July 2020.


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Main Outcomes and Measures Multiple approaches were taken to compare athlete perceptions of their risks of concussion and nonconcussion injury with individual probabilities of these risks, which were modeled using logistic regression.

Results Of 296 male college-aged athletes from 4 football teams who participated in the survey, 265 (89%) answered all questions relevant for this study. Participating teams were similar to nonparticipating teams across nearly all measured characteristics.

One hundred athletes (34%) had sustained 1 or more concussions, and 197 (68% of the 289 who responded to the question) had sustained 1 or more injuries in the previous football season. Logistic regression models of single-season injury and concussion had reasonably good fit (area under the curve, 0.75 and 0.73, respectively). Of the 265 participants for whom all relevant data were available, 111 (42%) underestimated their risk of concussion (χ2 = 98.6; P = .003).

A similar proportion of athletes (113 [43%]) underestimated their risk of injury, although this was not statistically significant (χ2 = 34.0; P = .09). An alternative analytic strategy suggested that 241 athletes (91%) underestimated their risk of injury (Wilcoxon statistic, 7865; P < .001) and 167 (63%) underestimated their risk of concussion (Wilcoxon statistic, 26 768; P < .001).


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Conclusions and Relevance The findings of this survey study suggest that college football players may underestimate their risk of injury and concussion. The implications for informed participation in sport are unclear given that people generally underestimate health risks. It is necessary to consider whether athletes are sufficiently informed and how much risk is acceptable for an athlete to participate in a sport.

 

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