Soccer Fans Get Fit and Lose Weight

An innovative study targeted a group of men who often find it difficult to lose weight.

Passionate sports fans can become healthier and more physically active with some encouragement from their favorite team, according to an innovative study that targeted a group of men who often find it difficult to lose weight.

The Football Fans in Training program has run for 3 seasons at Scottish Professional Football League clubs and has been well received by the nearly 750 devoted soccer fans. Researchers at the University of Glasgow have conducted one of the world's first randomized control trials of a health program delivered through professional sports clubs.

“We now have ‘gold-standard’ evidence that the program can help men lose weight and keep it off,” said Professor Sally Wyke, one of the principal investigators and Deputy Director of Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow. After 12 months, the difference in weight loss between men who did the program and men in a comparison group who did not do the program was about 11 pounds.

The free 12-week program has obese men take part in a training session each week at their club’s home ground, where they receive advice and tips about how to eat more healthily and how to fit more physical activity into their daily lives. Over the following 9 months, they receive regular email reminders about maintaining the changes they have made and are invited to attend a group reunion at the club.

In the study, the men were divided into 2 equal groups. Those who participated in the program lost more than 9 times as much weight as men who did not do the program. Nearly 40% of men who participated maintained a weight loss of at least 5% of their original body weight 12 months later.

What’s more, the program 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.

“Some men do not want to take part in existing weight management programs. This program 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,” said the other principal investigator, Professor Kate Hunt from the Medical Research Council/Chief Scientist Office Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow.

“Participants really enjoyed being with other men like them, with a shared interest in football and similar health issues to address,” she noted. “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.”

Commenting about the study, Dr David Lubans of the University of Newcastle, Australia, said the findings “could encourage researchers and health professionals to use this strategy in other sports (rugby union, American football, and basketball) to combat the global obesity epidemic.”

The researchers published their results in the January 21, 2014 issue of BMC Public Health.