Can football clubs help fans to lose weight?
In the UK, it’s estimated that around one in every four adults is obese, with research suggesting that ratio is likely to increase over time. Obesity is associated with a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions including stroke, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and some types of cancer.
Although men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women, they are less likely to recognise that they are overweight, join weight-loss programmes, or lose the weight if not supported by a programme.
However, when men do engage with a weight-loss programme, they do well, with lower drop-out rates than women, and some evidence to suggest they may lose more weight than women.
What we did
The NIHR evaluated an intervention carried out in partnership with Scottish Premier League football clubs - Football Fans in Training (or FFIT).
A group of 747 men were randomly assigned to receive either the Football Fans in Training (FFIT) intervention or go on a waiting list to start the programme in 12 months’ time. FFIT comprised 12 sessions of dietary and exercise advice, held at a local professional football club, and a pedometer-based walking programme.
What we found
After a year, the men who had completed the FFIT programme had lost nearly 5kg more than those who had not. They also demonstrated improvements in blood pressure, dietary habits and alcohol consumption compared to the waiting list group.
The study has informed NICE public health guidance on "Managing overweight and obesity in adults – lifestyle weight management services”. The FFIT intervention also appears on the Public Health Agency of Canada as a Best Practice.
Through close working between the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Professional Football League Trust (SPFLT) FFIT is being implemented at a local level in over 30 Scottish football clubs with support from Scottish Government in 2016. The programme has also been adapted for delivery to women. In the season 2014/15 it was delivered 48 times, recruiting 868 men and 257 women of whom 776 men and 155 women completed the programme. In these deliveries, the mean post-programme weight loss for men was 4.4kg and for women 3.96kg.
In 2014/15 the Southampton and Swindon Town Football Clubs have also been trained and delivered the programme, with funding from local public health. More recently Leyton Orient Football Club and Middlesbrough Football Club have signed up for training with growing interest from other Professional clubs in England.
Further research-based developments of the programme are being made through collaborative research with partners in the Netherlands, Norway, England and Portugal (EuroFIT), Canada (HockeyFIT) and Australia (Aussie FIT).