Top football clubs in four EU countries are about to kick-off a health and fitness programme to help their larger fans become more active, less sedentary and lose weight. EU-funded researchers aim to expand the programme to the rest of Europe if the approach leads to healthier, more active lifestyles.
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‘Fit as a football fan’, might not become an idiom right away, but 1 000 overweight followers of the ‘beautiful game’ will soon try to escape the ‘couch potato’ stereotype. They will be testing out an innovative health and fitness programme at 15 of Europe’s top-tier clubs in the UK, Portugal, the Netherlands and Norway.
The EU-funded project EuroFIT developed the programme to encourage overweight and obese men to improve their diets, and become more active and less sedentary. The researchers hope the trial will provide a model that could be replicated by other football clubs across Europe – leading to fitter fans and healthier lifestyles.
Inactive and sedentary lifestyles are a major burden on healthcare systems, and account for an estimated one million deaths per year in Europe, says the World Health Organization. Governments have invested in promoting healthier, fitter lifestyles, but have found it difficult to get this message across to men. Only 10% to 30% of participants in current weight management programmes across Europe are men, for example.
New and innovative approaches are needed to engage more men in improving their health, explains EuroFIT project coordinator Sally Wyke of the University of Glasgow, UK.
“EuroFIT’s overall aim is to build new social partnerships between football clubs, fans and researchers that harness the power of football to deliver an innovative public health programme,” says Wyke. “This project is extremely exciting and ambitious – it could be adapted for all sorts of other groups, and lead to positive lifestyle changes in men, their families and wider social networks across Europe.”
Out of Scotland
EuroFIT builds on the success of >Football Fans in Training. The Scottish programme, also led by the University of Glasgow, and delivered in partnership with the Scottish Professional Football League Trust, involved 13 of Scotland’s top-tier football clubs and 747 overweight or obese male volunteers aged from 35 to 65. The volunteers lost an average of 5.6 kg and kept the weight off for at least a year.
EuroFIT is adapting the programme for the rest of Europe and has added another goal – help men reduce the amount of time they spend sitting. Project partners developed a pocket monitor that keeps track of how much time participants spend sitting, standing and walking. It prompts them to move around when it determines they have been sitting for protracted periods.
A software app also allows participants to play a team-based game to help achieve health and fitness targets – a means of encouraging them to stay in touch with other participants, support one another and continue the programme.
In July 2015, EuroFIT completed a pilot study at Everton Football Club with 11 volunteers. Everton’s community coaches were involved in leading the activities.
Participants attended 90-minute coaching sessions each week for 12 weeks. They did walking tours, physical exercises in the stands and beside the pitch, games of walking football, discussions on healthy eating and ways to overcome the barriers preventing them from having more active lives. EuroFIT used the study to assess how men and coaches respond to the programme and to adjust the time allocated to each activity.
Over the summer 2015 the project started recruiting some of the 1 000 volunteers at the 15 participating football clubs – for example, Arsenal in the UK, PSV in the Netherlands, FC Porto in Portugal and Rosenborg Ballklub in Norway.
Half of the men will start the test programme in autumn 2015, the other half will begin in autumn 2016. All will come to the club at least 4 times during the 2015-2016 season to have their measurements taken and progress assessed.
At the end of the project, the EuroFIT team will provide guidelines on how to replicate the programme in other clubs.
“As a real world test, new participating clubs will test the implementation plans by funding and delivering the EuroFIT programme without further support from the EuroFIT team,” says Wyke. “We will also explore ways to expand the programme to other target groups, such as women and children.”
Read article in Horizon Magazine