Dons' fans who shed a combined 27 stone on a pioneering healthy living initiative will tonight (February 6) hear of the scheme's success at a meeting at Pittodrie.
The Scotland-wide Football Fans In Training programme - or FFIT - involving scientists, health professionals and Scottish football clubs officially kicked off in 2011 to help tackle the nation’s obesity pandemic by getting more men interested in weight management and a healthier lifestyle.
“Slimming clubs and diets are often seen as something women rather than men sign up to,” explained the University of Aberdeen’s Professor Shaun Treweek, who helped design the FFIT trial, which is led by the University of Glasgow. “Targeting overweight men via their football clubs was seen as a possible way forward.”
FFIT - involving a number of Scottish universities, the NHS and Scottish Professional Football League clubs including Aberdeen Football Club - launched in June 2011 as a trial to see if the idea actually worked. And it proved a resounding success.
“Using football clubs as a base for healthy living groups encouraged men to sign up,” said Professor Treweek, who is presenting the findings tonight to some of the Aberdeen FFIT volunteers plus some of the AFC in the Community officials who helped make it happen.
“Participants with a BMI of 28 or over went to their local football club once a week for 90 minutes over 12 weeks. They did a mix of classroom activity where there were sessions on healthy eating and portion sizes and other stuff such as the calorie count in alcohol.
“Staff at the football clubs also worked with the men on exercise – some did football based activity on training pitches, there was walking around stadiums and running up and down the terraces. Men were also given pedometers so they could measure how many steps they were taking each day and they really got into it – one Scottish taxi driver used to walk around his car while he was waiting for fares.
“The average weight loss for FFIT men across Scotland after one year was 5.6 kilos – just over 12 lbs. And our Aberdeen FFIT participants did even better, losing an average of one kilo more. In the past, weight loss for football fans on FFIT has been converted into an equivalent number of meat pies. Aberdeen’s combined weight loss of 171.kg or 27 stone equates to around 1,465 meat pies. A bit of fun perhaps but it’s an impressive achievement, however you measure it.”
Last month the FFIT collaboration published research in The Lancet which showed that men who took part in FFIT lost more than nine times as much weight as men who had not done the programme. As well as losing weight while they were on the programme, nearly 40% maintained a weight loss of at least 5% of their original body weight a full 12 months later. This outcome is associated with lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and other health problems. The study also found that FFIT had other benefits such as helping men reduce their waist size, body fat and blood pressure. Participants also increased their physical activity levels, and improved their diets and mental wellbeing.
Although the trial has finished, FFIT is still running at Aberdeen Football Club. A new group of 26 men had their measurements taken on February 4with the FFIT programme starting a week later.
Ally Prockter, Head of Community at Aberdeen Football Club is hugely impressed by the FFIT programme. He said: “The effort and commitment put in by all the participants to date is fantastic. Whilst the weight loss and health benefits are important, for many of these guys FFIT has been a life changing event, and the friendships generated have resulted in ongoing weekly 5-a-side football and matches against FFIT teams from other clubs.
“AFC in the Community are looking to use the football club in different ways to help North East communities, and FFIT is a shining example of how the club’s facilities and profile can help others to help themselves. All the men, and my community staff, are to be congratulated on the excellent results which they have achieved. Just another bit of success by AFC.”
Scott Duncan, AFC Community Coach said: “For me, the key to the programme is about making small lifestyle changes and habits that can be sustained and built on in the long term, we don’t encourage anyone to make drastic change or cut anything out of their diet as this is unrealistic and for most unachievable. The fact that 40% of the original participants maintained a weight loss of at least 5% off their original weight a year on highlights this method works! It is all about the participants and the work they put in but it is really rewarding when you bump into one of the guys in the gym or you get an email saying how much the course has helped and encouraged them to change for the better.”
Professor Treweek added: “FFIT has been one of the best things I’ve worked on, a great initiative, great collaborations between organisations that don't normally work together and fantastic participants. Long may it continue. ”
Dons’ fan Dougie Henderson was a 20-a-day smoker who didn’t exercise or eat fruit, and who tipped the scales at just under 17 stone when he signed up for FFIT last year. And it’s been an absolute game-changer for the 41-year-old Aberdonian who heard about FFIT via AFC’s website.
“The FFIT coach referred me to see a doctor due to my blood pressure being very high, my doctor gave me a really hard time for being overweight and for smoking too much, classic causes of high blood pressure along with a lack of exercise, I’d never have gone to see him if I hadn’t been referred,” says full-time chef Dougie, who stubbed out the habit, threw himself into FFIT and stuck to his new, healthy regime after the 12-week programme ended.
“The very fact that it was at AFC was its biggest draw – it was really motivational. We’d be sitting in the players’ lounge hearing about things like portion control. That really shocked a lot of us – the size of portions we should be eating compared to what we assumed were normal portions was a real eye opener.
“We also exercised. We started off walking around the stadium and built it up until we were doing circuits on the concourse of the Richard Donald Stand. We also did gym sessions in the gym that the players use. And because of the banter with the other guys on the programme you really wanted to do well.”
During the summer Dougie was running three 5ks a week. He said: “I went from 0 hours exercise to 6.5 hours’ exercise a week and I’m a healthier eater now. I eat four portions of fruit a day and choose brown pasta over white.”
FFIT also opened another door for Dougie who lost 2.5 stone and went from a 42 inch waist to 34 inches.
“AFC were having an open day as they were looking for coaches to help with their AFC in the community and I was lucky enough to get picked for that. I became a volunteer coach as I wanted to give something back. I’m also now a referee with the Midnight League which helps teenagers stay off the street by getting them playing football. I’ve also been asked along to the next FFIT 12-week block to speak to the volunteers. Signing up is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”