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Football fans in training to tackle obesity

Date: 13 February 2015

An NIHR-funded trial evaluating the effectiveness of a programme to help football fans lose weight, feel better and live a healthier lifestyle, has published its full findings in Public Health Research, today.

Delivered via the Scottish Professional Football League Football (SPFL) Trust, the Football Fans in Training (FFIT) scheme is a free, 12-week programme which ran at 13 SPFL clubs at the time of the research. Men attended 12 weekly sessions at their local club to learn useful skills and techniques to help them improve their physical activity and diet.

A team of researchers funded by the PHR Programme, and led by Professors Sally Wyke and Kate Hunt of the University of Glasgow together with a team of other Scottish researchers developed the evidence-based programme and evaluated its effectiveness. It was one of the world’s first randomised controlled trial (RCT) of a health programme delivered through professional sports clubs. It proved extremely popular, recruiting around 750 men to take part.

The study, which published in The Lancet and BMC Public Health last year, found that men who participated in the FFIT scheme lost more than nine times as much weight as those who did not take part in the programme. Participants also benefited from reduced waist size less body fat and lower blood pressure, which can all be associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Being obese can increase the risk of many illnesses, For example, it increases chances of having high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease and stroke - and after smoking, is the most preventable cause of cancer. Male obesity is more prevalent in the UK than in the rest of Europe and is set to increase at a faster rate than female obesity in the next 40 years. Current trends suggest that 60 percent of men will be obese in England by 2050, with figures for Scotland likely to be similar, and it is predicted that the link between obesity and socioeconomic deprivation, already evident in women, will soon appear in men.

Recognising the need for more research-based evidence, and in response to the publication of 'Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives: A cross-government research and surveillance plan for England' , the NIHR issued an ‘Obesity Themed Call’ in 2009, encouraging researchers to submit applications to carry out high-quality research in this area. The FFIT study is one of a number of projects that was funded as a result of this call for research proposals.

Professor Sally Wyke, one of the two chief 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 had not yet done the programme, was 4·94kg.”

Billy Singh, General Manager of the SPFL Trust said: “Our unique partnership with the University of Glasgow has allowed us to fully evaluate the impact of FFIT. The results of the research were quite staggering and are testament to the hard work of the football clubs and the men themselves.” The SPFL Trust is currently running FFIT for men across 26 clubs and piloting FFIT for women across 5 clubs. Full details including how to enrol can be found at:

Chief Investigator, Professor Kate Hunt, from the Medical Research Council/Chief Scientist Office Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, 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 who had 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. They appreciated the chance to be encouraged, trained, and informed by the club’s coaches. This model has real potential for the future.”

Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health Jamie Hepburn, said: “One of the best ways to motivate people to become more physically active is to make sure it’s connected to something they enjoy. This programme has been a success because it taps into these fans’ passion for football, and uses that enthusiasm to keep them involved. I’m delighted to see that this scheme has been such a success, because getting people physically active really is the key to improving Scotland’s health.”

Read the full report in the NIHR Journals Library.

A follow-on study to evaluate how well the FFIT programme helps men achieve long-termweight loss and improvements to their physical activity and diet, has recently started. The project, also funded by the PHR Programme, is being led by Dr Cindy Gray – the Trial Manager of the original study – and will take place across 20 clubs across Scotland where FFIT is being delivered. More information can be found on the project page