Football fans get FFITer and lose weight
The Football Fans in Training programme* (FFIT) has run for three seasons at Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) clubs, helping fans to lose weight, take more exercise and improve their diet. The research, led by a team at the University of Glasgow, shows that FFIT has proved extremely popular with men, and its effectiveness and value for money have now been clearly demonstrated in the world's first randomised control trial (RCT) of a health programme delivered through professional sports clubs. The research has been published this week in The Lancet and BMC Public Health.
Professor Alan White, who was a collaborating researcher on the FFIT study, said: "Football Fans in Training (FFIT) is a very important study in showing how sport can be an effective and cost effective tool for public health work with men. This randomised control trial demonstrated conclusively that men will lose weight and that this loss is sustainable when male focused initiatives are used. The Premier League Health study, which we evaluated here at Leeds Met, showed that men will engage in health initiatives based in football clubs and this study clearly shows how this work can be taken to another more exciting level."
Professor Sally Wyke, one of the two Principal Investigators from the University of Glasgow commented: "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 did not do the programme, was 4.94kg."
The study began in June 2011 and involved 747 men. The article published in BMC Public Health presents the starting, baseline, measurements of men who participated in the FFIT research. The baseline measurements showed that 90% of participants had a BMI (body mass index) over 30 kg/m2, which classified them as obese. The research team carried out focus groups to see what initially drew men to the program. One man said: "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."
The Lancet article establishes the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the programme, showing that the 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 12 week programme, nearly 40% of men who participated in the programme maintained a weight loss of at least 5% 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. 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.
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.
Derek Spence, who has lost 14.9kg (2 stones, 5lbs) since starting FFIT at Hibernian FC in September 2011 said: "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."
Professor Kate Hunt, Co-Principal Investigator at the University of Glasgow, added: "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 like them, with 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. And they appreciated the chance to be encouraged, trained and informed by the club's coaches. This model has real potential for the future."
* FFIT is a free 12 week physical activity and healthy eating programme designed to help men become more active, improve their diets and lose weight, and to maintain these changes in the long term. Each week men take part in a training session at their club's home ground and receive advice and tips about how to eat more healthily, how to fit more physical activity into their daily lives and how to make these lifestyle changes for the long term.
Over the following nine months, men receive regular email reminders about maintaining the changes they have made during FFIT and are invited to attend a group reunion at the club.