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NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has today backed a scheme that lets overweight football fans train at their club’s stadium, encouraging them to get fit and live a healthier, more active life.
Five clubs from the English Football League Trust are already taking part in the Football Fans in Training (FFIT) programme, first run in Scotland – which sees overweight men coached for 12 weeks at their team’s home ground.
Clubs put on a three-month programme of exercise and sports and give advice on healthy eating. One programme at Swindon FC saw 30 men lose more than 40 stone in weight.
The EFL Trust wants to see the programme spread to more communities by setting up new partnerships to boost the impact of the scheme.
The scheme was developed in 2010 and is operated by the Scottish Premier Football League Trust north of the border.
Simon Stevens said that rolling out the scheme in England will help cut type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related problems including heart disease and several types of cancer, improving health and relieving pressure on the NHS.
And as the NHS prepares to publish its Long Term Plan that will have a renewed focus on illness prevention, he said commissioners should consider enabling GPs to refer supporters to the scheme as part of the growing move toward ‘social prescribing’.
Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said: “Obesity is a public health emergency and tackling it needs to be a team effort.
“Football clubs are the centre of communities across England and working with them to encourage fans to get fit is a great idea that can produce real results.
“As the NHS prepares to publish a long term plan that will include a renewed focus on prevention, commissioners should consider whether schemes like this can help patients live fitter, healthier lives – and take pressure off on NHS services.”
In England the FFIT is currently available at Swindon Town, Wycombe Wanderers, Blackpool, Middlesbrough and Charlton Athletic. Local NHS services also work with Widnes Vikings rugby team, helping children exercise regularly through coaching by rugby players.
Mike Evans, Director of Operations at EFL Trust said: “The EFL Trust is committed to improving the lives of people within EFL communities across country and Football Fans in Training is proven to be a great way to get people to think about sustainable changes to improve their lives. We are proud of the work in our EFL Clubs in this area so far and hope to do more to address this important challenge going forward.”
The FFIT scheme is the only evidence-based programme of its kind.
Experts at the University of Glasgow, who studied the programme’s Scottish roll-out, said the men lost more than nine times as much weight as those who had not done the programme.
Men who followed FFIT in Scotland saw improvements to their health and wellbeing, with two in five maintaining a weight loss of at least 5% of their original body weight a year later.
The EFL Trust supports, advises and resources the network of community organisations associated with the 72 EFL Clubs.
Last month, NHS England announced a major expansion of its Diabetes Prevention Programme after it proved successful in early trials.
Low-calorie diets will also be piloted as part of the NHS long term plan.