An initiative that helps male football fans feel better and live a healthier lifestyle by losing weight, taking more exercise, and improving their diet has been a resounding success, according to new research published in The Lancet and BMC Public Health.
The Football Fans in Training programme* (FFIT) has run for three seasons at Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) clubs. The research, led by a team at the University of Glasgow, UK, shows that FFIT has proved extremely popular with men, and its effectiveness and value for money have now been clearly demonstrated in one of the world’s first randomised control trial (RCT) of a health programme delivered through professional sports clubs.
Professor Sally Wyke, one of the two Principal Investigators from the University of Glasgow said: “We now have ‘gold standard’ evidence that the FFIT programme can help men lose weight and keep it off. After 12 months, the difference in weight loss between men who did the programme and men in a comparison group, who did not do the programme, was 4·94kg.”
The study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme, began in June 2011 and it involved 747 men.The article published in BMC Public Health presents the starting, baseline, measurements of men who participated in the FFIT research. The baseline measurements showed that 90% of participants had a BMI (body mass index) over 30 kg/m2, which classified them as obese. The research team carried out focus groups to see what initially drew men to the programme and their reluctance to use other weight loss programmes. One man said, when speaking of what attracted him to FFIT: “I was very aware that every time I was buying a new suit, the trouser size was getting bigger and I just wanted to address it. And with FFIT having a tie with the team I’ve supported all my life, I felt that the two kind of – they fitted nicely. It meant I could do something [about my weight] and I could get a wee sneaky peek behind the scenes at the club.”
The Lancet article establishes the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the programme, showing that the men who participated in FFIT lost more than 9 times as much weight as men who had not done the programme. As well as losing weight when they were on the 12 week programme, nearly 40% of men who participated in the programme maintained a weight loss of at least 5% of their original body weight a full 12 months later, an outcome associated with lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and other health problems. The study also found that FFIT had other benefits it helped men reduce their waist size, body fat and blood pressure. Participants also increased their physical activity levels, and improved their diets and mental wellbeing.
The cost-effectiveness analysis of FFIT revealed that the intervention was relatively inexpensive to deliver, suggesting that FFIT could offer good value for money for local and national health providers.
Derek Spence, who has lost 14·9kg (2 stones and 5lbs) since starting FFIT at Hibernian FC in September 2011 said: “I had tried to do fitness things before, and my motivation had let me down. But coming to Hibs and doing the Football Fans in Training Programme gave me a lot more confidence to continue with it. Since then, I’ve done an 18 lap run around the pitch at Easter Road for charity I play 90 minutes of football and 5-a-side. Things I wouldn’t have looked at before now, I do now. I also learnt so much about things like portion sizes: you already know you might be eating too much, but seeing it in front of you makes all of the difference. It’s just been a fantastic experience.”
Professor Kate Hunt, from the Medical Research Council/Chief Scientist Office Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow and the other study Principal Investigator said: “Weight management and dieting are often wrongly viewed as ‘women’s’ issues, meaning that some men do not want to take part in existing weight management programmes. The FFIT programme shows that men are keen and able to make positive changes to their health in the right circumstances, and the football club is a great setting for weight management and other health initiatives for men. Participants really enjoyed being with other men like them, with a shared interest in football and similar health issues to address. They loved having the opportunity to spend time at the club, using parts of the stadium that they couldn’t ordinarily access. And they appreciated the chance to be encouraged, trained, and informed by the club’s coaches. This model has real potential for the future.”
Commonwealth Games and Sport Minister Shona Robison said: “Often encouraging people to become more physically active is all about finding the right ways to motivate them. Football fans clearly already have a passion for the sport and through funding the FFIT programme, we are able to provide the link and the encouragement to get people from the stand to the pitch. Tapping into that existing enthusiasm has been key to the success of this innovative project that targets a group of men that can often be more difficult to persuade to get healthier and more physically active.”
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The Lancet: A gender-sensitised weight loss and healthy living programme for overweight and obese men delivered by Scottish Premier League football clubs (FFIT): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial
Delivery of the FFIT programme was funded by the Scottish Government and The Football Pools and coordinated by the Scottish Professional Football League Trust. The FFIT randomised controlled trial was led by the University of Glasgow with support from researchers at the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Leeds Metropolitan University. The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme (project number 09/3010/06).
The Scottish Professional Football League Trust is an independent charity which works in partnership with all 42 professional football clubs across Scotland. Each club has a community programme which works with The SPFL Trust to serve their communities and deliver 4 key themes: Health, Citizenship, Achievement and Participation. Positive impact, influence and results are achieved by using the power of football to make a real difference to people’s lives. Strategic partners currently include Scottish Government, The Prince’s Trust, Creative Scotland and Comic Relief.
Further info: www.spfl.co.uk/spfl-trust
The National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme was launched in autumn 2008. It commissions research to evaluate public health interventions, providing new knowledge on the benefits, costs, acceptability and wider effect of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. The scope of the programme is multi-disciplinary and broad covering a range of public health interventions. The PHR Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland. www.nets.nihr.ac.uk/programmes/phr
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk)