The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has taken off the gloves in its stance on the matter of children participating in the sport of boxing. The AAP published a policy statement in the August 28 online edition of Pediatrics, in which the organization concludes pediatricians should “… strongly discourage boxing participation among their patients and guide them toward alternative sport and recreational activities that do not encourage intentional head injuries. The policy’s recommends tersely that pediatricians should “vigorously oppose boxing for any child or adolescent.”

Risk of brain injury, especially concussions, seems to be at the core of the AAP’s stand against boxing for youth age 19 years and younger. Though the policy statement acknowledges studies have concluded overall risk of brain injuries is lower in boxing compared to sports such as football, ice hockey, wrestling and soccer, “… boxing encourages and rewards direct blows to the head and face.”

Laura Purcell, MD, and Claire M. A. LeBlanc, MD, are lead authors of the statement that was a collaboration between the AAP and Canadian Paedeatric Society.

Despite the risk of injury, the policy statement points out that in 2008 more than 18,000 youths younger than 19 years were registered with USA Boxing. Supporters of youth participation in the sport say boxing promotes individual benefits such as exercise, self-discipline, self-confidence, work ethic, and friendships. Boxing programs, the policy statement observes, are reported to be particularly beneficial to disadvantaged youth, providing supervision, structure, and goals and an alternative to gang-related activity.

Nonetheless, the AAP underscores the inherent risk of boxing with research that demonstrates 6.5% to 51.6% of all injuries that occur in the sport are caused by concussion. Despite assertions by boxing supporters that boxing risk is lower compared to other sports, the AAP statement lays out evidence from at least one study that is jarring, demonstrating a concussion rate in amateur boxing of 0.58 per 100 athlete-exposures, compared with 0.28 in hockey and 0.38 in high school rugby.

“Because the sport encourages deliberate blows to the head, participants are at risk of head injuries that may be cumulative and even fatal,” the authors conclude.

[Source: American Academy of Pediatrics]