Primary school children have been banned from heading footballs during training.

The new rules have been introduced today with immediate effect by the English, Northern Irish and Scottish football associations.

It comes after a study by the University of Glasgow published in October last year - called Football's Influence on Lifelong health and Dementia risk (FIELD) - showed professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than others of a similar age.

The updated guidance also suggests that there should be a "graduated approach" to heading for children aged 12 to 16.

However, heading will be allowed during matches due to the limited number of headers in youth games, the English Football Association (FA) said.

Although the study did not suggest heading a ball was the cause of dementia, the association said it was updating the guidance to "mitigate against any potential risks".

Watford Observer:

The heading ban comes after a study by the University of Glasgow. Photo: Pixabay

FA chief executive officer Mark Bullingham said: "This updated heading guidance is an evolution of our current guidelines and will help coaches and teachers to reduce and remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football.

"Our research has shown that heading is rare in youth football matches, so this guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game."

The associations said the guidance has been produced in parallel with the Union of European Football Associations' (UEFA) medical committee, which is seeking to produce Europe-wide guidance later this year.

Wales appears to be the only nation within the UK which has not yet adopted the new rules.

Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the Irish FA, added: "Our football committee has reviewed and approved the new guidelines. As an association we believe this is the right direction of travel and are confident it will be good for the game, and those who play it."

The Scottish FA's chief executive, Ian Maxwell, commented: "While it is important to reemphasise there is no research to suggest that heading in younger age groups was a contributory factor in the findings of the FIELD study into professional footballers, nevertheless Scottish football has a duty of care to young people, their parents and those responsible for their wellbeing throughout youth football.

"The updated guidelines are designed to help coaches remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football in the earliest years, with a phased introduction at an age group considered most appropriate by our medical experts. It is important to reassure that heading is rare in youth football matches, but we are clear that the guidelines should mitigate any potential risks.

"I would like to thank our colleagues at the English FA for their collaboration in this process and UEFA’s medical committee for their guidance."

The FIELD study looked at the NHS records for 7,676 men who played professional football in Scotland. It found that on average, former footballers lived three and a quarter years longer and were less likely to die of many diseases such as heart disease or lung cancer. However, they were more likely to die of dementia.

11 per cent of the footballers in the study who passed away died because of dementia, compared to around 3 per cent of others who were the same age.