– SPFL Trust helps 374 supporters of 13 SPFL clubs shed an astonishing 291st 11lbs combined-

Scottish football supporters of 13 SPFL clubs are for the first time celebrating a loss – after shedding almost 2,000kg combined thanks to the success of a new training programme established for fans.

The Football Fans in Training programme* (FFIT) – which helps male football fans feel better and live a healthier lifestyle by losing weight, taking more exercise and improving their diet – has been a resounding success, according to new research published in The Lancet and BMC Public Health.

The initiative, funded by the Scottish Government and The Football Pools, is free for participants and has run for three seasons at Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) clubs (see attachment 2 for list of participating clubs). The research, led by a team at the University of Glasgow, shows that FFIT has proved extremely popular with men, and its effectiveness and value for money have now been clearly demonstrated in one of the world’s first randomised control trials (RCT) of a health programme delivered through professional sports clubs. 

Among the highlights from the recently published results are: 

  • St Johnstone fans managed to achieve the greatest mean weight loss, shifting an average of 8kg (or 8.3% of their total weight) over a 12-month period 
  • Celtic and Rangers were the top two in total weight loss over 12 months, with their fans losing 271.1kg and 213.3 kg respectively 
  • The average participant of all clubs was a 47-year-old male, achieving 5.6kg (5%) weight loss and 7.3cm from his waistline over the 12-month period 
  • Combined, all participants lost a collective 23m from their waistlines, more than double the distance from a penalty spot to the goal-line 

Billy Singh, General Manager of the SPFL Trust which worked in partnership with clubs to encourage their involvement in the programme, said: “These just might be the best set of results of the season. All participating clubs should be congratulated on the hard work that has gone on behind the scenes to help achieve these fantastic outcomes and the SPFL Trust is very proud of the role it has played. 

“Of course, the greatest vote of congratulations must go to each and every SPFL supporter who has participated and enjoyed a life-changing experience thanks to their drive and determination. They should all be very proud of themselves and we hope they act as inspirations for other supporters to follow suit.” 

Neil Doncaster, SPFL chief executive, said: “This is a powerful endorsement of the positive force Scottish football can play off the pitch, helping to make a significant and hugely positive contribution to the lives of many.” 

Bob Winter OBE, chairman of The SPFL Trust, added: “The Scottish Professional Football League Trust works in partnership with the 42 professional football clubs in Scotland to create opportunities at the heart of our communities that bring people together and change lives for the better. This is more evidence that the programmes we are activating throughout Scotland, across the pillars of activity of health, citizenship, achievement and participation, are working and immense credit must go to the driving forces behind FFIT as well as the fans themselves.”

Professor Sally Wyke, one of the two Principal 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 did not do the programme, was 4.94kg.”

The study began in June 2011 and involved 747 men. The article published in BMC Public Health presents the starting, baseline, measurements of men who participated in the FFIT research. The baseline measurements showed that 90% of participants had a BMI (body mass index) over 30 kg/m2, which classified them as obese. 

The research team carried out focus groups to see what initially drew men to the programme. One man said: “I was very aware that every time I was buying a new suit, the trouser size was getting bigger and I just wanted to address it. And with FFIT having a tie with the team I’ve supported all my life, I felt that the two kind of – they fitted nicely. It meant I could do something [about my weight] and I could get a wee sneaky peek behind the scenes at the club”.

The Lancet article establishes the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the programme, showing that the men who participated in FFIT lost more than 9 times as much weight as men who had not done the programme. As well as losing weight when they were on the 12 week programme, nearly 40% of men who participated in the programme maintained a weight loss of at least 5% of their original body weight a full 12 months later, an outcome associated with lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and other health problems. The study also found that FFIT had other benefits – it 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. 

The cost-effectiveness analysis of FFIT revealed that the intervention was relatively inexpensive to deliver, suggesting that FFIT could offer good value for money for local and national health providers.

Derek Spence, who has lost 14.9kg (2 stones, 5lbs) since starting FFIT at Hibernian FC in September 2011 said: “I had tried to do fitness things before, and my motivation had let me down. But coming to Hibs and doing the Football Fans in Training Programme gave me a lot more confidence to continue with it. Since then, I’ve done an 18 lap run around the pitch at Easter Road for charity I play 90 minutes of football and 5-a-side. Things I wouldn’t have looked at before now, I do now. I also learnt so much about things like portion sizes: you already know you might be eating too much, but seeing it in front of you makes all of the difference. It’s just been a fantastic experience.” 

Professor Kate Hunt, Leader of the Gender and Health programme at MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University, the other study Principal Investigator 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 like them, with 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. And they appreciated the chance to be encouraged, trained and informed by the club’s coaches. This model has real potential for the future.”

In 2011, FFIT won a European Professional Football League (EPFL) Best Practice Award in the Social Responsibility category.

For more information on the FFiT Programme at ICTFC – CLICK HERE

The Lancet Report can be viewed at – http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62420-4/abstract

The BMC Public Health article can be viewed at – http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/50/abstract
For more information about FFIT, go to http://www.ffit.org.uk