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Components of a successful weight loss programme for men

Although men are more likely than women to be overweight or obese, they are less likely to seek help or join a weight loss programme. If men do join a weight loss programme, the evidence suggests there are certain factors which are more likely to make the programme successful.

As might be expected, there is clear evidence that men are likely to lose weight through a reducing diet. But for men (as for all adults) the combination of a reducing diet with physical activity seems to be the most effective approach, and men seem to particularly like having a physical activity component to any weight loss programme.

What weight loss programmes work? 

The evidence suggests that men do well in group settings, with some favouring men-only groups, although some also value individually tailored advice in addition. There is also some evidence that men favour factual information, and possibly the use of technology or props to illustrate weight loss and exercise patterns – such as pedometers, for example.

Commercial weight loss programmes achieve results as good as NHS programmes, but most are predominantly female and men are much less likely to enrol in these groups.

Interventions in community settings, like sports clubs or workplaces, are more attractive to men than healthcare settings. In particular, studies have found that programmes run in sports venues to which men felt a strong connection demonstrated low drop-out rates and high participant satisfaction. Men in these programmes also valued the sense of camaraderie and ‘team spirit’ which came from working in a supportive group environment with other similar men.

There is some evidence that the use of behavioural change techniques, such as self-monitoring and goal-setting, may be effective as part of a weight loss programme for men. However there is no clear evidence to suggest whether any particular combination of behaviour change activities is more effective than any other.

Football fans in training – a weight loss programme for men

A group of 747 men were randomly assigned to receive either the Football Fans in Training (FFIT) intervention or go on a waiting list to start the programme in 12 months’ time. The intervention comprised 12 sessions of dietary and exercise advice, held at a local professional football club, and a pedometer-based walking programme.

After a year, the men who had completed the FFIT programme had lost nearly 5kg more than those who had not. They also demonstrated improvements in blood pressure, dietary habits and alcohol consumption compared to the waiting list group. 

"You’re doing it in a group, it’s so much easier. You’re encouraging each other and you’re happy to see other people getting on and losing weight – not just the losing weight."

Participant, Football Fans in Training

Is running a targeted weight loss programme for men cost-effective?

At the moment there is limited evidence about the cost-effectiveness of targeted weight loss interventions for men. However, the Football Fans in Training programme carried out a cost-effectiveness analysis of this particular intervention. This found that the intervention is likely to be cost-effective based on the findings of the evaluation at 12 months. Projections over a longer time period also found that the intervention was cost-effective.

Key implications

Evidence suggests that the following components are associated with successful weight loss programmes for men:

  • A combination of a weight reducing diet (not crash diets) with physical activity.
  • A group environment (some men may prefer men-only groups) with some individually tailored advice
  • Use of behavioural change techniques such as goal-setting or self-monitoring, and perhaps the use of technology or props such as pedometers.
  • A sense of camaraderie and mutual support. One way in which this has been achieved is through programmes run through the professional sports clubs which participants support, although this type of programme may not suit all men.

There is limited evidence on what helps men maintain weight loss, although behaviour change techniques may help in some circumstances.

NICE guidance on management of obesity provides more detailed information about the components of successful weight loss programmes for adults in general, including many of the elements above. This new evidence adds to this in terms of the specific elements that are most important for men.

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