A project designed to improve the health of football fans has proven to be more effective in boosting physical activity in men than other similar programmes, according to new research.
Experts also found that the groundbreaking European Fans in Training (EuroFIT) programme – which encourages football supporters to improve their lifestyles using their clubs' facilities – led to improvements in diet, weight, wellbeing, self-esteem, vitality and biomarkers of health risk.
The study, led by the University of Glasgow and involving experts from the University of Stirling, involved a randomised control trial of 1,113 men, aged between 30 and 65, training across 15 professional football clubs in England, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.
Professor Kate Hunt, of the Institute of Social Marketing at Stirling, was involved in the project. She said: “The EuroFIT programme harnesses the intense loyalty that many fans have for their team – and uses this to attract them to a lifestyle change programme at their club.
“This new research supports earlier studies that indicate this initiative is successfully encouraging men to improve their physical activity and adopt healthier lifestyles.”
EuroFIT was built on the experience of the Football Fans in Training programme (FFIT), which was developed and evaluated by a team of researchers, led by the University of Glasgow, and delivered in Scotland by the Scottish Professional Football League Trust.
The clubs involved in the EuroFIT project were: Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle, Manchester City and Stoke City in England; ADO Den Haag, FC Groningen, PSV, and Vitesse in the Netherlands; Rosenborg, Strømsgodset, and Vålerenga in Norway; and SL Benfica, FC Porto, and Sporting CP in Portugal.
Delivered by community coaches at the clubs’ stadiums in 12 weekly, 90-minute group sessions, EuroFIT aims to increase physical activity, reduce time spent sitting, and improve and maintain a change in diet over the long-term. Using cutting-edge behavioural science, it attempts to prevent, rather than treat, chronic illnesses associated with inactivity – such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – and includes strategies for enhancing sustained behaviour change.
In the randomised control trial, the men were split into two groups – with the first undertaking the EuroFIT programme and the second group who did not. The second group did participate in EuroFIT – but only once the trial had ended.
After a year, the men who had participated in EuroFIT were doing, on average, 678 steps a day more than those who had not. They had also improved their diet – eating more fruit and vegetables, less fat and less sugar – and had increased their levels of wellbeing and vitality.
However, the study found attempts to reduce time spent sitting were not successful: after the year, men who completed the programme were not sitting less than the comparison group.
Professor Sally Wyke, the programme’s Principal Investigator and Interdisciplinary Professor of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, said: “The results of our randomised control trial of EuroFIT support the findings of the earlier FFIT study. 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.”
Having been successfully tested, EuroFIT will be rolled out across Europe by the European Healthy Stadia Network, using a not-for-profit licensing system.
Matthew Philpott, Executive Director of European Healthy Stadia Network, said: “We are hugely excited about the roll-out of EuroFIT, as we now know this intervention is effective across different European countries.
“We are working with our partners at UEFA to promote this evidence-based lifestyle programme to European football, and are already planning delivery of the programme in a number of new territories this Spring, with the aim of having EuroFIT embedded across European football over the next five years.”