Can sports clubs help tackle male obesity?

Male obesity – a growing problem in the UK

Obesity has become a serious health issue in the UK – not least for men. More than two-thirds of men are overweight or obese and it is predicted that nearly 50% of UK men will be obese by 2030. Men are also less likely to pursue weight management programmes than women. However, an innovative approach suggests that programmes delivered by professional football clubs in a men-only setting can be effective.

Football Fans in Training (FFIT)

Football Fans in Training (FFIT) is a weight management and physical activity group programme developed by Scotland's top professional football clubs. It is a well-designed public health intervention, which attracted many football fans whose BMI was high. A study found that participants lost weight and their health status improved more than non-participants. This evidence-based programme is now widely run by a number of professional sport clubs’ foundations for their communities.

Weight loss programmes run by Football Club Foundations

In England, leading sports clubs now often have charitable community foundations. Community foundations from the football premiership and several premiership rugby club foundations are often now running weight loss programmes for middle-aged men. The programmes run by football premiership foundations are mainly for men who are out of shape and haven't been active for a long time. They are 12-16 weeks long and provide healthy diet education and physical activities led by qualified personal trainers and health experts. Support from trainers and the feeling of comradeship generally produces a positive effect on participants’ physical and mental health. A few football club foundations, in regions with high type 2 diabetes rates, also have a health programme for those suffering from the illness.

Weight loss programmes run by Rugby Club Foundations

The Move like a Pro programmes run by premiership rugby club foundations are similar to football foundations’ programmes. Some are also giving fans the chance to train at their local clubs in sessions run by clubs' own training staff. This is an extra bonus for participants and can help attract men to join the scheme.

The potential influence of sports clubs on public health

Professional sports clubs hold an important place in the lives of many men in the UK. Because professional sports players self-evidently need to be fit, they are also positive role models and there is likely to be a natural interest among fans in being able to learn about and, on a small scale, replicate their training routines when it comes to diet and fitness. While these health interventions have already been widely implemented by some profession football and rugby team foundations, they are not always widely known about and so have the potential to play a bigger part in reducing male obesity in the UK.

Some sports club community foundations have also developed programmes to assist with other aspects of health, such as childhood obesity, mental health and dementia; and some have also developed weight management programmes for women – suggesting an even greater potential contribution to public health.

However, at present, few sports clubs have programmes to encourage health at work among their own employees – an approach they may wish to consider exploring.

Recommendations.

  • GPs should consider actively prescribing professional sport club-based weight management and fitness programmes as a social prescription for male patients who need to lose weight.
  • Professional sports clubs should consider leading by example and arranging health promotion schemes for their own employees.
  • Other industries should consider the model piloted by professional sports clubs and their foundations, for example starting with major sportswear sponsors.

To find out more read our report: Can sports clubs help tackle childhood obesity?