The 12-week Football Fans in Training (FFIT)
program, run by coaching staffs from 13 Scottish Professional
Football League teams, combined advice on healthy diet with physical
activity and team regalia.
Researchers say it's a successful model for helping men improve
their health that could be adapted for fans of other sports.
"We thought there was an urgent need to develop weight management
programs that were designed specifically for men in settings in
which they would feel comfortable," Sally Wyke told Reuters Health.
A member of the study team, Wyke is deputy director of the Institute
of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow.
She said the program was not a diet; instead, it was geared toward
providing tips for making long-term lifestyle changes.
"The guys were given really clear simple information, made simple
changes to what they ate and also started out with a simple walking
program that used a pedometer to help them keep track of how many
steps they were doing so they could increase it slowly," Wyke said.
"They really liked the level of information they got science but
not rocket science," she said.
Wyke said the men also loved the chance they got to gain an
"insider's" view of the club, and to be tackling their weight and
improving their fitness with other men of similar ages, body shapes,
starting levels of fitness and most of all a shared passion for
Obesity is a major health problem for both sexes, but men are much
less likely than women to take part in weight management programs
offered by commercial organizations or community health services,
Wyke and her colleagues write in The Lancet.
To test a program designed around men's interests and psychology,
the researchers enrolled 747 male soccer fans, ranging in age from
35 to 65 years. All the men had a body mass index (BMI), a measure
of weight relative to height, that put them in the overweight or
Half of the men were randomly assigned to the FFIT program while the
other half were put on a waiting list and served as a comparison
group. Men in both groups were given British Heart Foundation
booklets on weight management.
About 89 percent of the men in the FFIT intervention group completed
the program. On average, they lost more than 12 pounds after 12
weeks and kept it off for the full 12 months of follow-up. The men
in the comparison group lost a pound or two, on average.
"The men felt a strong sense of team spirit right from the beginning they were given club T-shirts and program materials that were
labeled with club insignia," Wyke said.
Participants said they enjoyed the straightforward way the coaches
ran the program and there was a lot of banter, which sometimes
helped the men feel more comfortable so they could discuss some
sensitive subjects, according to Wyke.
"They managed to make dietary changes that were compatible with what
they liked to eat and drink, and didn't completely cut out some less
healthy choices. One man said it was like a night at the pub
without the alcohol'," she added.
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Wyke said the main messages of the FFIT program that helped the
men keep weight off over the 12-month follow-up included
self-monitoring of weight and exercise, healthy eating and portion
In a number of clubs, the men continued to meet up to exercise
together after the formal program ended and they found this ongoing
support really helped keep their motivation going, Wyke said.
"And it was a chance to keep the banter going too," she added.
"Professional sporting organizations provide convenient access to
many overweight men, and the findings from the FFIT study could
encourage researchers and health professionals to use this strategy
in other sports (eg, rugby union, American football, and basketball)
to combat the global obesity epidemic," David Lubans wrote in a
commentary published with the study.
Lubans, a researcher at the Priority Research Centre in Physical
Activity and Nutrition at the University of Newcastle in Australia,
was not involved in the study.
"Getting men into weight loss/health promotion interventions is very
challenging," Lubans told Reuters Health in an email.
Lubans said that most weight loss programs aren't targeted to men,
aren't fun and make weight loss complicated and confusing.
He added that most programs don't encourage men to develop
behavioral skills such as goal setting and self-monitoring.
It's also possible that men may be embarrassed to discuss weight
loss challenges in front of women they may be more comfortable in
a male-only environment, he said.
"Similar weight loss has been achieved with men in less intensive
programs, but the added benefits of connecting men with others in
their community may be considerable," he said.
"Obviously, this approach would not be attractive for all males, but
football is enjoyed by men (and women) around the world, thus this
approach has considerable potential reach," Lubans said.
Wyke said the Football Fans in Training program was cost effective
in the UK and she thinks it is likely to be in other countries as
However, she points out, soccer has a special place in Scottish
society and it would be important for researchers in other countries
to be sure that it was right for their particular setting and the
approach could be well adapted to their specific cultures.
Source: http://bit.ly/1fhG5lO and
The Lancet, online Jan. 21, 2014.
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