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Football training an effective weight loss programme

Men who participated in a Football Fans in Training (FFIT) scheme lost more than nine times as much weight as those who did not take part in the programme, according to results published recently in Public Health Research.1 Participants also benefited from reduced waist size less body fat and lower blood pressure, say the authors.

Delivered via the Scottish Professional Football League Football (SPFL) Trust, the Football Fans in Training (FFIT) scheme is a free, 12-week programme which ran at 13 SPFL clubs at the time of the research. Men attended 12 weekly sessions at their local club to learn useful skills and techniques to help them improve their physical activity and diet.

A team of researchers funded by the NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme, and led by Professors Sally Wyke and Kate Hunt of the University of Glasgow together with a team of other Scottish researchers developed the evidence-based programme and evaluated its effectiveness. It was one of the world’s first randomised controlled trial (RCT) of a health programme delivered through professional sports clubs.

Professor Sally Wyke (University of Glasgow)

Professor Sally Wyke (University of Glasgow)

A total of 747 men aged 35–65 years with an objectively measured body mass index (BMI) of ≥28 kg/m2. FFIT was gender sensitised in context, content and style of delivery. A total of 12 weekly sessions delivered at club stadia combined effective behaviour change techniques with dietary information and physical activity sessions. Men carried out a pedometer-based walking programme. A light-touch maintenance programme included six e-mails and a reunion session at 9 months. At baseline, both groups received a weight management booklet, feedback on their BMI and advice to consult their general practitioner if blood pressure was high.

Participation in FFIT led to significant reductions in weight at 12 months. It was cost-effective at standard levels employed in the UK, attracted men at high risk of future ill health and was enjoyable. Further research should investigate whether or not participants retained weight loss in the long term, how the programme could be optimised in relation to effectiveness and intensity of delivery and how group-based programmes may operate to enhance weight loss in comparison with individualised approaches, say the authors.

Professor Sally Wyke, one of the two chief investigators from the University of Glasgow, said: “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 had not yet done the programme, was 4.94kg.”

Speaking to BJC Arrhythmia Watch, Professor Wyke said: “We are now following up the men who took part in the study to see if they managed to maintain their weight loss and sustain behavioural changes 3.5 years (for the intervention group) and 2.5 years (for the waiting list comparison group).”

Her colleague, Professor Kate Hunt, from the Medical Research Council/Chief Scientist Office Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, said: “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 who had 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. They appreciated the chance to be encouraged, trained, and informed by the club’s coaches. This model has real potential for the future,” Professor Hunt added.


1. Wyke S, Hunt K, Gray C, et al. Football Fans in Training (FFIT): a randomised controlled trial of a gender-sensitised weight loss and healthy living programme for men – end of study report. Public Health Res 2015;3.

Published on: March 27, 2015

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