Doctor who confirmed link between football and dementia has insisted balls should be sold with health warnings for the neurodegenerative disease to ‘focus people’s attention’
- Dr Willie Stewart found a link between football and neurodegenerative disease
- A new study has revealed players are five times more likely to get dementia
- Stewart has suggested balls are solid with a health warning printed on them
Footballs should be sold with a dementia health warning on their packaging to minimise the risks associated with heading the ball, Dr Willie Stewart declared.
Dr Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist at the University of Glasgow and the man whose 2019 FIELD study confirmed a link between the game and neurodegenerative disease, said football has ‘fantastic health benefits’ but also comes with an ‘horrendous risk of dementia’.
Dr Stewart argued that warnings on packaging may be needed to ‘focus people’s attention’ on the issue and would be ‘good and responsible public health’.
Football’s link to dementia is proven and football’s lawmakers are being pressured to adjust
Dr Willie Stewart is suggesting that footballs should come with a printed health warning
His comments come as new data provides the strongest evidence yet that playing football — particularly in defensive positions — is linked with a dramatic increase in the risk of developing the debilitating disease.
The study, published in the journal Jama Neurology, found that defenders are up to five times more likely to be diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease — for example, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s — compared to the general population.
Goalkeepers, who are not exposed to repetitive head trauma as often as outfield players, are the least at risk, according to the findings.
At a briefing yesterday, Dr Stewart said: ‘We should think about things like health warnings on packaging. I think that helps focus people’s attention.
Research has shown that footballers are five-time more likely to be diagnosed with dementia
‘If I was a parent popping into the shop for a football, that health warning would make me think about what my kids would do with that.
‘Football has fantastic health benefits. The risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer is lower. But the spanner is this horrendous risk of dementia.’
Asked about this idea yesterday, Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton, who has led our campaign on dementia in football, said: ‘What’s the downside? I’ve had time to think about this and there isn’t one. It gets the message out there. It reinforces the risk factor. Even if it only helps one family be aware of the danger, it would have been worth it.’
The research, led by Dr Stewart, analysed records of 7,676 Scottish male former professional players born between 1900 and 1976.
They were compared with more than 23,000 individuals from the general population.
Football’s could be stamped with a warning to focus people’s attention’ on the issue in sport
Those who had careers spanning more than 15 years were also at a higher risk of developing diseases such as dementia.
Another finding is that the era the footballers played in had no effect, suggesting the introduction of synthetic balls to replace the old leather ones had no impact.
Dr Stewart said that although the leather balls were heavier when wet, they travelled slower.
Just last week, new guidance was issued limiting footballers to 10 ‘high-force’ headers in training a week. All Premier League clubs, who have now returned for pre-season, have been told to follow the restrictions while further research is conducted.