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Figure 1: CDC HEADS UP materials 2003 through present

This March, in recognition of Brain Injury Awareness Month, we want to take a moment to reflect on the momentous progress that has been made related to concussion education over the last 20 years. During that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) HEADS UP concussion education initiative started as a small campaign and grew to become an integral part of concussion education. This had a substantial impact on concussion laws and policies nationwide.

In the Children’s Health Act of 2000 (H.R. 4365) (Library of Congress, 1999–2000), Congress charged CDC to develop a public information campaign to broaden public awareness of the health consequences of traumatic brain injury. In response, in 2003, CDC released the HEADS UP: Brain Injury in Your Practice tool kit for health care providers. The goal of the tool kit was to improve awareness among primary care providers about the diagnosis and management of mild traumatic brain injury, an under-diagnosed and under-identified injury. Since then, CDC HEADS UP has become the go-to resource for concussion prevention and education — reaching millions of Americans with concussion information. CDC HEADS UP materials cover how to prevent, recognize and respond to a possible concussion or other serious brain injury. It has grown to include materials for health care providers, coaches, parents, school professionals, sports officials, and kids and teens (Figure 1). Some successes of CDC HEADS UP include:

  • Reaching more than 200 million people through ad campaigns, PSAs and more;
  • Partnering with more than 85 organizations (including the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons) across the fields of athletics, health care, public health, education and scientific research; and
  • Creating over 100 communication products to promote concussion prevention and care.

Educating People and Communities

One of the biggest achievements of CDC HEADS UP has been its ability to support the implementation of Concussion in Sports laws that now exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Concussion in sports laws (sometimes referred to as return-to-play laws) was first passed in Washington state in 2009. These laws focus on concussion safety for youth. Most require that coaches and others involved in youth sports receive training on concussion identification and response before the start of the sports season. CDC HEADS UP provides six online training courses designed for coaches, health care providers, school professionals, athletic trainers and sports officials (Figure 2). The availability of these quality training courses (at no cost) allows states, sports programs and schools to comply with education requirements contained in concussion in sports laws and policies. To date, more than 10 million people nationwide have completed at least one of these six training courses.

Figure 2: CDC HEADS UP online training courses on concussion used nationwide to implement state concussion policies and laws

Importantly, CDC HEADS UP educational initiatives and materials align with the best scientific

evidence available on concussion prevention and management. Studies show that CDC HEADS UP materials:

  • Increase communication about concussion between athletes and their parents;1
  • Reach a large number of coaches and parents and improve their knowledge about concussions;2-4
  • Lead coaches and others to view concussion more seriously;3,5,6
  • Increase the capacity of youth sports coaches to prevent, recognize and respond to sports-related concussions appropriately;6
  • Improve knowledge about symptom resolution and return-to-play recommendations;3,6 and
  • Improve awareness of underreporting of concussions among athletes.3

CDC HEADS UP to the Future!

CDC HEADS UP has contributed to a new landscape of concussion awareness in the United States — building, improving and supporting concussion safety around the country. However, the work of the campaign is not yet done. Exciting upcoming CDC HEADS UP initiatives include:

  • An updated and expanded training for youth sports coaches—the most popular CDC HEADS UP product;
  • Resources to help parents of toddlers and young children learn about concussion safety, prevention and care; and
  • Enhanced efforts to reduce disparities through concussion educational materials tailored for American Indian/Alaska Native, Black and Hispanic parents and youth.
  • Make a Difference Where You Live

CDC works to put HEADS UP concussion materials into the hands of parents, healthcare and school professionals, coaches, athletes and others. You can support this mission by:

In 2023, we celebrate 20 years of CDC HEADS UP’s contribution to the substantial strides in educating the public about concussion. Together we all can play a part in ensuring that the next generation of children is better protected from concussions and their potentially serious effects.


  1. Zhou, H., Ledsky, R., Sarmiento, K., DePadilla, L., Kresnow, M.J., Kroshus, E. (2022).Parent–Child communication about concussion: What role can the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HEADS UP concussion in youth sports handouts play? Brain Injury, 36:9, 1133-1139,
  2. Parker, E. M., Gilchrist, J., Schuster, D., Lee, R., & Sarmiento, K. (2015). Reach and Knowledge Change Among Coaches and Other Participants of the Online Course: “Concussion in Sports: What You Need To Know.” Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 30(3), 198–206.
  3. Daugherty, J., DePadilla, L., & Sarmiento, K. (2019). Effectiveness of the US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Heads Up Coaches’ Online Training as an Educational Intervention. Health Education Journal, 78(7), 784–797.
  4. Rice, T., & Curtis, R. (2019). Parental Knowledge of Concussion: Evaluation of the CDC’s “HEADS UP to Parents” Educational Initiative. Journal of Safety Research, 69, 85–93.
  5. Daugherty, J., DePadilla, L., Sarmiento, K. (2020). Assessment of HEADS UP online training as an educational intervention for sports officials/athletic trainers. Journal of Safety Research, 74:133-141.
  6. Covassin, T., Elbin, R. J., & Sarmiento, K. (2012). Educating Coaches About Concussion in Sports: Evaluation of the CDC’s “HEADS UP: Concussion In Youth Sports” Initiative. The Journal of School Health, 82(5), 233–238.

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