Healthwatch: Soft Baseballs

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Chad Aune works in a sporting goods store, and he's a parent.

"I worry about safety when my nine-year-old is playing baseball," said Aune.

The people who run Little League baseball also worry about safety, so they asked researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to look into the issue.

The researchers studied whether faceguards and reduced-impact baseballs, also known as safety or soft baseballs, reduce injury to kids.

Their findings appear in the Journal of the Americans Medical Association.

"These protective equipment items, the safety baseballs, the faceguards, do work," said Steve marshal, part of the study team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They do reduce the risk of injury in youth baseball, and we support and encourage leagues to use these equipment items wherever possible."

The researchers followed all two million Little League players for three years, comparing use of the safety equipment to injury rates.

Faceguards reduced the risk of facial injuries by more than a third and soft baseballs reduced the risk of ball-related injuries by almost a quarter.

The authors said their findings could be called common sense.

"If the baseball hits the facemask, it's not going to hit the face and it's obvious you're going to reduce injuries that way," said Fred Mueller, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "And also, the softer ball, it's just, if you're hit with something hard it's going to cause more injury than being hit with something soft."

"I remember throwing the ball at my father when I was a kid and broke his glasses and almost broke his nose," said Lyssa Whitson, who has a young son. That's why her son uses the softer, safety baseball.