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Football Fans in Training programme helps men to shed their excess pounds

THEIR physiques have not always matched those of the footballing heroes they worship from the terraces.

With a love of a few pints before a game and a pie at half time, few football fans are noted for having healthy lifestyles.

But a group of obese fans who took part in a diet and exercise initiative run by Scotland's top football clubs praised the scheme after research showed they shed 11 pounds more on average than men trying to lose weight alone.

The Football Fans in Training programme (FFIT) programme has been hailed as a "gold standard" for helping men fight the flab and keep it off long-term, after the world's first randomised control trial showed that participants lost more than nine times as much weight as men who had not taken part in the study.

Results show that those taking part in FFIT lost an average of 13 pounds over the three month trial and nine months later had typically gained no more than one pound in weight.

Meanwhile, the Glasgow University research showed men trying to lose weight on their own in a control group lost just one pound on average over the first 12 weeks, and nine months later this had only risen to 1.3 pounds on average.

Fans whose weight and age fitted the criteria were recruited via club websites, in-stadium advertising, and by FFIT staff approaching potentially eligible men on match days. A total of 747 men took part, split equally between the FFIT group and the control group.

Participants had to be 35 to 65 years old and overweight. Nine in 10 of the men who took part were considered clinically obese.

The programme, which began in June 2011, was offered by all SPL clubs and delivered free of charge by community coaching staff employed by the clubs.

Participants were split into groups of 30 and attended weekly training sessions at their favourite football club, which saw them take part in pitch-side exercise routines and other activities within the stadium.

Physical activity was ramped up as the weeks progressed to improve the men's fitness, while the 90 minute classes also incorporated advice on healthy eating, which participants were expected to learn and revise.

One participant said he was attracted to the initiative because it combined weight loss with a "peek behind the scenes" of the club he had supported all his life.

The findings, published today in the Lancet, show that almost 40% of the men who participated in FFIT maintained a weight loss of at least 5% of their original body weight a full 12 months later, reducing their risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.

Participants also cut their waist size, body fat and blood pressure.

Professor Sally Wyke, one of the two principal investigators, 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 11 pounds."

The researchers believe FFIT is an ideal model to attract men, who tend to shun traditional dieting groups or exercise classes.

Professor Kate Hunt, the second principal investigator, added: "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.

"FFIT 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 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."

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