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Researching Physical Activity and the Health of Hard To Reach Men

Research shows that men are at risk from a range of health conditions and are reluctant to engage health services. A recent report has outlined the initial findings of Premier League Health (PLH), a national programme of men’s health delivered through professional football clubs in the Premier League. This is an exciting partnership with the FA Premier League, the Football Pools, the 16 Premier League football clubs and Leeds Beckett University. PLH is part of the Premier League’s Creating Chances programme which uses football to increase participation in sport and encourages clubs to effect positive social change within the communities in which they are located. PLH aims to improve the holistic health and well-being of men from a range of social groups. Given the focus, PLH has a strong connection with main stream health policy such as the Government’s Responsibility Deal and the Public Health white paper.

Cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and cancer are important lifestyle-related diseases in the men living in the UK and unhealthy lifestyles contribute to their development. The Health Survey for England 2008 found that around a third of adult men undertake the recommended amount of physical activity. While data from the Office of National Statistics shows that a quarter of men smoke, although in men aged 25-33 years this figure is higher. When drinking is considered, at least 39% of men consume alcohol at potentially dangerous levels. Fewer than 10% of men aged 18-44 years consulted their GP in the last two weeks and a diverse range of barriers influence men’s decision to access health services.

In spite of men reporting difficulties when engaging healthcare, a number of men want to engage in activities designed to improve their health. In facilitating this aspiration, there is a need to use a range of approaches which make it easier for men to access interventions. Research has underscored the importance of making use of existing community networks and groups when delivering activities designed to enhance their health. This not only includes settings populated by men such as the workplace, but also the community, where leisure, sporting and cultural contexts offer opportunities to connect with men on health issues, including cricket and rugby.

Football has a long standing tradition of delivering health related activities. In PLH, activities are led by staff trained in health enhancement called health trainers. Interventions include awareness raising events on match days for supporters, and weekly activities with groups of local men.

Initial findings from the evaluation show that PLH provides an informal and supportive environment to engage men, including those not meeting health guidelines. Fewer than 20% of men reported taking part in sufficient physical activity to benefit health, while over a quarter smoked and almost half exceeded recommended limits for alcohol consumption. More than two thirds had at least risk three risk factors for cardio-vascular diseases (CVD). Engagement in the programme provided participants with a means of receiving support with lifestyle issues. In order that findings can be shared on how best to reach men with health interventions, the evaluation has also considered the process of implementation. Interviews with health trainers aimed to identify how best to design interventions in a way that helps recruit men into them. Findings include performing out-reach work with local agencies that engage men, tailoring activities to meet the diverse needs of participants and a flexible approach to programme delivery. For instance one element of the programme at Newcastle United involves linking with men from the South Asian community; in particular men employed in the fast food take away industries. Knowing that this group of men have a heightened risk of CVD, health trainers run a local programme of badminton supported with health advice delivered in local community venues. To fit in with the work routines of these men, sessions are run between midnight and 2am.

The Premier League Health Steering Committee has expressed a desire to see outcomes from the research shared with a diverse audiences. Research has been shared at three international conferences as well as the UK Faculty of Public Health Annual Conference in July 2011. More information can also be found below:

  • Pringle A, White A, Zwolinsky S, Smith A, Robertson S, McKenna, J. The pre-adoption demographic and health profiles of men participating in a programme of men’s health delivered in English Premier League football clubs. Journal of Public Health 2011. 125(7), 411-16.
  • Zwolinsky S, Pringle A, White, A, Smith A Robertson, McKenna J. The prevalence of multiple risk factors for CVD: A study of a national programme of men’s health promotion in professional soccer clubs in the UK. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise 2011; 43: 5.
  • Carnegie Research Institute and Centre for Men Health’s. Premier League Men’s Health Programme, Year 1 Report for FA Premier League 2011.
  • FA Premier League. Barclays Premier League Season Review 2009-10. London: The FA Premier League .

Dr Andy Pringle is Principal Lecturer in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health, Jim McKenna is Professor of Active Lifestyles, Andy Smith is a Senior Lecturer and Stephen Zwolinsky is a Lecturer in the Carnegie Faculty, while Alan White and Steven Robertson are Professors of Men’s Health in the Faculty of Health at Leeds Beckett University.