CEO Blog: Father's Day and Men's Health Week

From sofa to football pitch, Football Foundation CEO, Robert Sullivan, shares his thoughts on how playing football can help us tackle the nation's obesity crisis

The good thing about Father’s Day landing in the middle of The Euros is that for once I have an excuse to spend the day lazing around watching football and not feeling too guilty about all the other things I should be doing. But Father’s Day also marks the end of Men’s Health Week; and the paradox of me delighting in my sedentary football watching whilst reflecting on my own physical health through the lens of elite footballers does give me pause for thought. 

According to the NHS Health Survey for England, almost 9 million (27%) of adult men in England are now classified as being obese, with 22 million (68%) overweight. These frightening statistics provide the clearest indication yet of the scale of the obesity crisis facing the country today.  It’s something that can creep up on any of us – I can’t be the only man to have been surprised to be told by my GP that I was obese – when in my head I was still the rapid winger of my youth. 

And it’s a trend that is only set to get worse.

We now know that obese people have a much higher risk of suffering complications or even dying from Covid-19, while also being vulnerable to diseases such as diabetes, heath disease, stroke and cancer - putting an unbelievable strain on the NHS and economy. What was a national emergency before the first lockdown in March last year has now well and truly been brought back into the spotlight by the pandemic. 

To even begin to recover from the effects of Covid-19 we need to face obesity head on as a nation and, both physically and metaphorically, get up off the sofa. 

It is well known the role taking part in sport can play in getting people fitter and healthier, and football is one of the most effective ways of getting men more active. Physically active adults are 20-30% less at risk of dying compared to inactive adults. Football however goes further than this, with amateur footballers proven to be 3.5% fitter and healthier than those participating in other sports, showing just how beneficial a Saturday kick about with friends can be. 

Group of men on a football pitch
Group of men on a football pitch

Quality facility provision is one of the biggest barriers to football participation and tackling the obesity crisis among men in particular, with only one in eight football clubs satisfied with the quality of their pitches, and thousands of playing opportunities lost to poor conditions every year. 

At the Football Foundation we know that investing in local football facilities helps transform lives by enhancing physical and mental wellbeing, strengthening communities and empowering young people. Over the past 20 years, we have funded over 16,000 grassroots projects, providing thousands of new facilities which help to encourage men to get active and lose weight. The work we have carried out alongside communities has had a life changing impact on men’s physical health, including the delivery of the Man vs Fat programme across 68 of our funded sites. Over 90% of players have lost weight and got fitter as a result.

For many men, football of any kind is a more social and familiar route back into regular physical exercise, especially after several years of the gym taking a back seat to a young family. Getting out there playing again with my mates really helped me. The Football Foundation is determined to make sure everyone has a great place to play, helping us all meet the obesity challenge, and making that first step from sofa to pitch just a little easier (even on Father’s Day!).

Man v Fat football shirt
Man v Fat football shirt