A programme which targeted the lifestyles of male football fans of 15 European football clubs has been more effective in improving physical activity than other physical activity intervention programmes, according to research published in PLOS Medicine this week.
Everton in the Community was one of the community arms involved in delivering the European Fans in Training (EuroFIT) programme which supported men aged 30-65 years old with a BMI of 27+ and aimed to increase physical activity levels and encourage a less sedentary lifestyle.
The 12-week course was developed for football fans in England, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal and the weekly sessions on offer by EitC were focused on physical activity as well as educating participants on how to incorporate these new skills and techniques into everyday life as well as offering them the opportunity to meet like-minded people and share tips and advice.
EU-funded and delivered in partnership with European Healthy Stadia Network, EuroFIT supported 1113 men across 15 clubs and harnessed the intense loyalty that fans have for their teams, using this to attract them to a lifestyle change programme at club facilities. Results from the 12-week programme shows that participation in EuroFIT also led to important improvements in diet, weight, wellbeing, self-esteem, vitality and biomarkers of health risk.
EuroFIT is delivered by club’s community coaches in football club stadia in 12 weekly, 90-minute sessions which are aimed at increasing physical activity, reducing time spent sitting and improving diet in a way that maintains change over the long term. A novel pocket-worn device (SitFIT) developed for EuroFIT by the Glasgow company PAL Technologies allowed self-monitoring of time spent sitting and daily steps, in real time while a game-based app encouraged between-session social support.
In the randomised control trial men were split into two groups. The first group undertook the 12-week, group-based EuroFIT programme straightaway, and the second, comparison, group were asked to wait until after the trial to take part. After a year, men who took part in EuroFIT were doing on average 678 steps a day more than the comparison group.
They had also improved their diet, eating more fruit and vegetables, less fat and less sugar and had increased wellbeing and vitality. However, attempts to reduce time spent sitting were not successful. After a year men who did the programme were not sitting less than those who had to wait to take part.
EuroFIT was built on the experience of the Football Fans in Training (FFIT) programme. FFIT was developed and evaluated by a team of researchers led by the University of Glasgow, is delivered in Scotland by the Scottish Professional Football League Trust and has been adapted for delivery in Canada and Australia.
Using cutting-edge behavioural science EuroFIT adds the novel technologies in a bid to prevent, rather than treat, chronic illnesses associated with inactivity, such as type2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In addition, EuroFIT included part of the "toolbox" of strategies for enhancing sustained behaviour change.
Michael Salla, EitC Director of Health, said: “We were delighted to be involved in this European-wide programme exploring an opportunity to utilise the brand of Everton Football Club to improve the health and wellbeing of our male fans. The results are fantastic.
"The academic findings show significant improvements in weight reduction, dietary habits, wellbeing and self-esteem. This programme has made a real difference to our fans by reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer while improving mental health.”
Professor Sally Wyke, the programme’s Principal Investigator and Interdisciplinary Professor of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, said: “Gender-sensitised lifestyle programmes delivered in professional football clubs show great promise in Europe and could play an important public health role in engaging under-served men.
“The results also show that reducing the amount of time that people spend sitting is a real challenge for public health. We recommend that future lifestyle studies should attempt to ensure that participants understand the distinction between being more physically active and spending less time sitting down being very inactive.
With a finalised version of the programme now successfully tested by additional pilot clubs in England, Netherlands, Norway and Portugal, project partner, European Healthy Stadia Network, will be responsible for the roll out of EuroFIT across Europe using a not-for-profit licensing system.