An initiative designed to help male football fans lose weight, take more exercise, and improve their diet has been a resounding success, according to new research.
The Football Fans in Training programme (FFIT) has run for three seasons at Scottish Professional Football League clubs.
The 12-week course brings football fans to a training session at their club’s home ground where they also receive advice about healthy diet, activity and lifestyle choices.
A group of researchers, including from the University of Edinburgh, tracked the health of 747 participants.
According to their paper published in The Lancet, men who participated in FFIT lost more than nine times as much weight as men who had not done the programme.
As well as losing weight when they were on the course, nearly 40 per cent of men who participated maintained a weight loss of at least five per cent 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.
Before the programme began 90 per cent of participants had a BMI (body mass index) over 30 kg/m2, which classified them as obese.
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.
Professor Nanette Mutrie, head of the University’s Physical Activity for Health Research Centre (PAHRC), trained the football club coaches to deliver the physical activity elements of the programme. She also provided participant and coach guidance on the walking programme which is based on the PAHRC’s ongoing work with pedometers.
The research team carried out focus groups to see what initially drew men to the programme and their reluctance to use other weight loss schemes.
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.
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.
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.
The research was one of the world’s first randomised control trial of a health programme delivered through professional sports clubs.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme, began in June 2011.