carnegieXchange: School of Sport

Football Club Community Trusts Tackling Global Health Issues Locally

While the nation is gripped with following the Women’s World Cup, it is important to remember that the work of football extends from global competitive events to global challenges including health and wellbeing.

Published on 03 Jul 2019
White line at the edge of a grass sports pitch

Physical inactivity has been referred to as a global pandemic (Andersen, Mota & DiPetro, 2016; Tremblay et al., 2017; World Health Organisation, 2018) and bold societal and governmental action has been recommended, included the use of innovative approaches and settings for health improvement.

Football club community trusts are the charitable arm of professional clubs across the English Premier and Football Leagues (Martin et al., 2016). They form important components of the armoury for physical activity and health improvement (Pringle & Zwolinsky, 2018). Trusts deliver on a number of strategic areas including health, education and social inclusion and their importance has been recognised in government strategy for sport.  While football-led health improvement interventions are common across a range of health conditions such as obesity (Hunt, 2014; Lozano et al., 2016; Rutherford et al., 2015) and mental health (Hargreaves & Pringle, 2019; Pringle et al., 2014), more recently attention has been turned to another global health issue, cancer.

The number of new diagnoses of cancer in the UK annually is currently 363,484 (average; Cancer Research UK, 2019), increasing by 2% each year due to the aging population and improvements in screening and diagnosis.  Coupled with improvements in treatment, more people than ever are living longer after cancer diagnosis, with 2.5 million people currently living with cancer, which is likely to increase by 3% each year going forward (Macmillan, 2019). While this news is encouraging, this does however mean that many people are living with the negative and debilitating side effects of treatment. With increasing cancer survivorship is an increased importance placed on supporting people to have a good quality of life.

Physical activity has been shown to improve the negative physiological and psychosocial side effects of cancer treatment that exist for many, such as fatigue and health related quality of life (e.g. Gopalakrishna et al., 2017; Phillips et al., 2015), anxiety and depression (Rogers et al., 2017) and in the case of breast and colon cancer, a reduced risk of recurrence (Musanti & Murley, 2016).

Notts County FC Football in the Community (FITC) and Macmillan Cancer Support have been working in partnership to provide individuals (both men and women), from across Nottinghamshire, support with their cancer survivorship pathway with rehabilitation exercise opportunities. Cancer And Rehabilitation Exercise (CARE) was established in March 2015 and aims to support cancer patients/survivors to improve their lifestyle through access to rehabilitative exercise and support, using behaviour change and physical activity to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and increase survival rates. CARE is led by professional community sports coaches trained in cancer rehabilitation and behaviour change and is primarily delivered from the Portland Centre (the Notts County FITC run leisure centre situated in The Meadows, Nottingham).  The programme was initially delivered in blocks of 12 weekly sessions lasting one and a half hours each, with two sessions being delivered each week. It has now developed so that multiple sessions are offered to accommodate participants’ needs.

Few, if any studies have investigated the impact and implementation of a physical activity-led cancer rehabilitation programme delivered by football community trusts, especially including women.  Researchers at Leeds Beckett have been evaluating the effect and the process of delivering CARE. Our evaluation of 170 people showed that participants contained more women (71.2%) than men (28.8%) (average age 55 years; 90% of participants were from white backgrounds). Most female participants had been diagnosed with breast cancer (77.1%), whereas, most males had been diagnosed with prostate cancer (71.7%). Importantly, participants were doing an additional 215 minutes of physical activity per week 12 weeks post-intervention and the increase in physical activity was maintained at 187 minutes after 6 months. Maintained improvements in the reduction of fatigue and increase in health status were also reported after 6 months of starting the CARE programme. These results have had a significant impact on the lives of CARE participants and because of this, has led to the programme being commissioned by the local clinical commissioning group and East Midlands Cancer Alliance.

The purpose of this blog is not so much to share the outcomes from this programme, but more the role of football in tackling global health issues at the local level. Moreover, while football club community trusts have been promoted as successful vehicles to reach men for health promotion, the work of colleagues at Leeds Beckett University is demonstrating that these interventions are just as attractive to and effective in women.


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Dr Zoe Rutherford

Dr Zoe Rutherford is a former Princpal Lecturer in Physical Activity, Exercise & Health at Leeds Beckett. Her research is in the applied measurement and promotion of physical activity and health across the lifespan.

Dr Nicky Kime

Nicky is a former Reader at Leeds Beckett. Her area of expertise is diabetes, predominantly the care of children, young people and adults with type 1 and the education and training of professionals working in diabetes. Her research is focused on service improvement, physical activity and behaviour change.

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