Tuesday 19 March 2013
Ahead of the launch of the latest Creating Chances report on 21 March, premierleague.com looks at the key work the organisation has undertaken to help people with the issue of health.
"Since taking part in Premier League health, my health and well-being has improved significantly"
One of the key areas of concern in the Western world is men’s health. With more young males becoming overweight or obese, their susceptibility to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer is on the upward curve. In 27 EU countries men have a 64% higher death rate than women, while in some sectors of British society there are groups of men whose life expectancy is even lower than certain developing countries.
The general reluctance by men to engage with healthcare services has only compounded the issue.
To combat this problem, in 2010 the Premier League launched Premier League Health – a unique three-year £1.63m programme funded by The Football Pools to improve the state of men’s health in England.
Over 10,000 men have taken part in the project in which 16 Premier League and Championship clubs received funding to implement interventions designed to raise men’s awareness of health issues and help them adopt longer-term lifestyle changes.
Meeting the health needs of vulnerable groups of men, especially those from poorer backgrounds, has proved challenging, but Premier League Health tackled issues as diverse as depression, obesity and alcohol and substance abuse.
Through Premier League Health, clubs offered help in a community setting with initiatives including weekly classes and group sessions with NHS health trainers in and around iconic football grounds local to the men. The close association with the football clubs undoubtedly increased the appeal of the project to the men concerned.
Most projects delivered tailored programmes that ran for a set number of weeks before presenting exit pathways to participants, while clubs also communicated key health messages to a wider audience via one-off events to raise awareness and point people to local health services.
"Among the men we have worked with, we have seen alcohol consumption decrease, and many have adopted a better diet"
“Since taking part in Premier League health, my health and well-being has improved significantly,” said Danny Leonard, a participant in Everton’s Premier League health initiative. “I have even received support in cutting down on my smoking habit, breaking a habit that I have wanted to give up for some time. I have also gained a coaching qualification and this programme has opened up many opportunities for my future.”
Stopping smoking is not the only benefit brought about by clubs. "Among the men we have worked with, we have seen alcohol consumption decrease, and many have adopted a better diet,” said Simon Morgan, the Premier League's Head of Community Development.
Morgan, with Professor Alan White of Leeds Metropolitan University, the world’s first Professor of Men’s Health, presented a report on the state of men’s health in Europe. After analysing the work of Premier League Health Professor White found that 75% of those who take part make positive health changes to their lives.
Premier League clubs have been proactive in numerous other health initiatives. At Wigan Athletic, for example, Latics in the Community are behind the Wigan Fit Fans, a three-year project funded by the Premier League PFA Community Fund and open to men over the age of 25.
Volunteers take part in a 12-week programme, where they participate in football and sport sessions and are given advice on issues such as weight management, healthy eating and how to make physical activity part of their everyday life.
One group who successfully completed the project were presented with a Wigan Athletic home shirt by manager Roberto Martinez. “Fit Fans has been fantastic and has helped me lose weight and make some important changes to my life,” said Ian Abernethy, who lost over a stone in weight through the Fit Fans course. “It was great to meet Roberto and also for him to give us a Latics shirt – especially as it was a smaller one than it would have been three months ago.”
It is not just men who have benefited from the Premier League health initiatives. Schoolchildren are also an important demographic as they are increasingly exposed to the perils of an unhealthy lifestyle. Figures released in December by the National Child Measurement Programme show that one in three children in the final year of primary school in England is overweight or obese.
Manchester United decided to tackle this problem in 2008 by launching their Something To Chew On campaign (STCO). Funded by the PLPFA Community Fund the 10-week programme, which combines football, fitness and nutrition, directly benefited 21,000 people in the Greater Manchester area.
With practical healthy eating activities in the classroom and physical activity sessions delivered by Manchester United Foundation coaches, children were educated about eating healthily and living a balanced lifestyle.
By 2010, in recognition of its growing impact, STCO was awarded the coveted ‘inspire’ mark of approval received only by schemes which are set to make a major contribution to the health and well-being of future generations.
The award generated government interest and Hugh Robertson, the then Minister for Sport and the Olympics, visited Sacred Heart Primary School in Gorton to observe a STCO session. Such was the impact of the programme that by spring 2011 it was being launched nationally with rugby union Premiership club Sale Sharks.
In partnership with 12 top rugby union clubs, and with training support from the Manchester United Foundation, 200 schools participated in the rugby version of the programme in 2011. The Foundation itself delivered STCO in a further 96 schools.
STCO has had a huge impact on the lives of thousands of young children, with Wayne Rooney helping to add stardust to the initiative by giving his full backing to the project, meeting some of some of the children concerned and inspiring them to recognise the importance of a healthy diet.
Programmes such as STCO are a perfect example of how Premier League-funded health programmes can benefit both the community they serve and work in harmony with other sports and as such the Premier League remains committed to using the allure of the beautiful game to promote healthy lifestyles, increase physical activity, tackle sensitive health issues and improve well-being in order to change lives in the communities our clubs serve for the better.