THE global fight against AIDS has found a new weapon – overweight Scottish football fans.

The United Nations has hailed an SPFL Trust campaign which has helped hundreds of fans lose weight them as an exemplar of how to encourage men to monitor their health.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) warns that men are less likely to access HIV treatment and more likely to die of AIDS-related illnesses, in a report released on World Aids Day on Thursday.

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The SPFL Trust said it is proud to see its example is being used internationally to tackle HIV and AIDS globally.

Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, said: “There is a blind spot for men—men are not using services to prevent HIV or to test for HIV and are not accessing treatment on the scale that women are.”

The report urges HIV programmes to boost men’s use of health services and to make services more easily available to men.

This includes making tailored health services available, including extending operating hours, using pharmacies to deliver health services to men, reaching men in their places of work and leisure, including pubs and sports clubs, and using new communications technologies, such as mobile phone apps.

The report stated: “The establishment of men’s health centres in several countries has successfully attracted more men to undertake health check-ups, especially when these facilities extend their operating hours into the evenings, as has been done in Scotland, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.”

It added: “Other interventions have focused on reaching men in places of work or leisure, including pubs and sports clubs.

“A gender-sensitive programme focusing on overweight football fans in Scotland, for example, resulted in significant weight loss among male participants.”

The SPFL Trust Football Fans in Training programme (FFIT) was hailed as a resounding success by health journals The Lancet and BMC Public Health.

The initiative, funded by the Scottish Government and The Football Pools, is free for participants.

Its effectiveness and value for money was demonstrated in a Glasgow University-led trial in 2011 which found 374 supporters of 13 SPFL clubs had shed nearly 292 stone between them in 12 months.

St Johnstone fans achieved the greatest weight loss, shifting an average of 8kg, or 8.3 per cent of their total weight.

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 weight loss of more than 12 pounds and seeing a 2.8-inch reduction in his waistline over the 12-month period.

Combined, all participants lost a collective 23 metres from their waistlines, more than double the distance from a penalty spot to the goal-line.

UNAIDS says sport offers big opportunities for promoting behaviour change among young people, including boys and young men.

International health campaign Grassroot Soccer uses football to educate at-risk youths to live healthy lives.

Its SKILLZ curriculum uses football-based activities to engage adolescent girls and boys around health risks and to train young community leaders as health educators.

The programme has reached almost two million people in 45 countries, primarily in Africa and South America, and its graduates show signicant improvements in knowledge of risky behaviours and awareness of local resources for support.

Nicky Reid, chief executive of SPFL Trust, said: “We are delighted that an organisation such as the United Nations recognises the impact of our Football Fans in Training programme, when it comes to engaging men.

“We are committed to ensuring that the SPFL is the most community engaged in the world.

“If any of the best practice from FFIT can be used internationally to tackle HIV and AIDS globally then we couldn’t be more proud.

“It just goes to show that football truly is a universal language with the power to engage those who are often considered harder to reach. It really is more than 90 minutes.”

Dr Cindy Gray, senior lecturer in health and wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, said: “FFIT was developed in a systematic way, and then robustly tested to prove its effectiveness.

“Following its success with men in Scotland, the programme has now been taken up by professional football clubs in England and Germany, and has been modified for other sports like ice hockey in Canada, Rugby Union in England and New Zealand, and Aussie rules football in Australia.

“We are delighted that it has been name checked as an exemplar in this major UN report. It is further proof that the FFIT model has a huge potential to support men to improve their health.”