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Boxing Too Risky for Young Boys (and Girls)

By on August 30, 2011

Boxing teenagers may be able to deliver a punch but the nation’s largest group of pediatricians on  recently urged its members to “vigorously oppose boxing for any child or adolescent.”

In a statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said thousands of boys and girls participate in the sport in North America, despite risks of  serious brain and facial injuries. The group’s position mirrors the stance at many other medical organizations and was applauded by some experts.

“There is very little one can reasonably do in order to increase the chance of having a healthy brain when you get old,” said Dr. Hans Forstl at the Technische Universitat Munchen in Munich, who has studied boxing injuries. “One of the best things you can do is avoid boxing,” he said.

Pat Russo, a retired police officer who runs a boxing gym in Brooklyn, New York, said the sport has helped thousands of kids in poor neighborhoods find direction in life. “Boxing has been a kind of penicillin for these kids, it has been saving these kids,” he said. “It teaches them discipline and a work ethic that if you do something and you practice every day, you are going to get better at it.”

According to the new statement, published in the journal Pediatrics, data from Canada show a rise in boxing injuries over the past decade. From 1999 to 2007, the injury rate jumped from 11 to 16 per 100,000 kids, with most of the damage done during sparring or competitions. Concussions are the biggest concern, ranging from six to 52 percent of all injuries, depending on which study you look at.

“Boxing is one of the very few sports which really aim at hurting the opponent and for a short period of time achieving loss of consciousness,” said Forstl. “A knockout is basically a cerebral concussion.”

Immediately after a bout, he added, boxers have increased production of beta amyloid, a compound found in excess in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. “The typical brain of a boxer with a long career shows severe changes,” Forstl said.

Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts, said “clearly boxing is safer today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but it is still a very risky activity.” For kids in poor areas, however, the situation is different, said Cantu, who has written a book about boxing and medicine.

“The most dangerous thing for the majority of people in boxing is just where they live,” he explained. “They are far safer in the ring, even taking blows to the head, than they are out in the neighborhood.”

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