A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that doctors "vigorously oppose" boxing for children and teenagers, citing health risks, notably concussions:
"In boxing, children and youth are encouraged and rewarded for hitting the head. We're saying, don't put kids in a sport where hitting the head is condoned and encouraged," said Dr. Claire LeBlanc, co-author of the new position statement and chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society's Healthy Active Living and Sports Medicine Committee.
... Concussions in children and teens are of particular concern. Young brains are more vulnerable to injury, explain the pediatric groups. Recovery from a concussion takes longer in young people than it does in adults, possibly up to 10 days longer.
"We just can't say that repetitive blows to the head aren't dangerous. We have a much better understanding of concussions now, and repetitive concussions can have a negative impact on many aspects of cognitive function," said LeBlanc.
The studies are well-reasoned, and frankly, it's hard to argue against them. But boxing also has a unique draw for many of the youths who take up the sport:
"I think it's a well-intended statement, but I don't think that it takes into consideration the realities of who mostly gets involved with boxing. These are people that don't have, for the most part, your local golf course, tennis or basketball court as an option. These are youngsters, often from deprived backgrounds, that flourish with direction and flourish with having individuals take an interest in them. They are far, far safer in the boxing ring than they are out on the street," said Dr. Robert Cantu, a spokesperson for USA Boxing's Medical Commission.
Dr. Barbara Gaines adds this:
"If you're a parent and you're trying to choose an activity for your child, cross boxing off the list. There are alternatives for conditioning and athleticism."
And she is right, but this ignores what Dr. Cantu says before. There are, according to the article, 18,000 young people (under 19) involved in boxing in the United States. Now I don't know the demographics here -- I don't know what percentage of that 18K are from the deprived backgrounds that Dr. Cantu talks about, that we often hear about in the stories of young boxers, but for many of them, it's not about "conditioning and athleticism." It's about a way out of something worse, something more hopeless than even the dream of making it in a very hard sport.
Are any of you parents with a child involved in boxing, or are any of you parents who would discourage your child from taking up the sport? Medically, I don't think the risk is debatable. But there are other factors involved. It's not a black and white medical issue.