Oxford United in the Community has traditionally focused on younger children in primary schools via Football in the Community programmes. Their new strategy “Oxfordshire – A Community United” means they are extending that focus, working to support all of the community across Oxfordshire “aged from 2 to 92” with a more “place-based” approach.
They have created a new countywide health and wellbeing service, ‘Fit U’s’ – a one of its kind programme to help tackle cardiovascular health. This 13-week programme is designed to help people lose weight, quit smoking and increase levels of physical activity. The charity has a new Health and Wellbeing Service Lead, who is responsible for delivering the new programme. Rebekah joined after graduating from Buckinghamshire New University with a degree in sport and exercise science.
After losing her grandfather and lifetime Oxford United supporter to a sudden heart condition, Rebekah believes free services like FIT U’s can aspire healthier lifestyles through the power of football. She states: “I have no doubt that our new health and wellbeing service will help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease across the county. Our goal is to engage with as many people possible during this delivery period and inspire healthier and happier lives across the county.”
FIT U’s will be delivered to up to 240 participants in eight 13-week waves across Oxford, Abingdon and Banbury. The programme is targeted to individuals who do little to no physical activity. Weekly sessions lasting 90 minutes, naturally, will teach the theory behind living a healthier lifestyle and include fun activities that inspire participants to get moving.
Funding in April 2022 from Oxfordshire County Council, Public Health aimed to improve the cardiovascular health of Oxfordshire residents. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes a quarter of all deaths in the UK and is the leading cause of premature deaths in vulnerable people (those experiencing homelessness, with mental health conditions or who live in deprived areas), where smoking rates are between three and eight times higher than average.
The NHS Long Term Plan identifies that CVD is the single biggest condition where lives could be saved by the NHS in the next ten years, and it recognises that too many people are still living with undetected, high-risk conditions. CVD is one of the conditions most strongly associated with health inequalities.
The new programme for Oxford United in the Community has been made possible due to this Healthy Hearts grant funding, as well support from the English Football League Trust and Sport England.
Chris Lowe, Head of Oxford United in the Community confirms: “It is proven many cardiovascular disease cases are preventable and can be reversed by increasing activity levels, eating healthily, and drinking responsibly. FIT U’s will teach this and more and help us fulfil our long-term commitment to inspire happier, healthier and better-connected communities.”
Oxford United in the Community are part of a national network of 40 football clubs delivering FIT FANS, the national programme. This has a robust, unmatched evidence base which shows a direct impact on many of the greatest contributors to premature death and cardiovascular disease: obesity, poor diet, alcohol consumption, high blood pressure and physical inactivity. It reaches individuals who are less likely to present to primary care and uses peer support to create social bonds that outlast the length of the programme.
Outcomes for Oxfordshire are expected to match the results in the rest of the country. This includes high retention rates; and reduction in BMI, blood pressure, risk of developing Type II diabetes, and sedentary time; plus significant weight loss. The launch of FIT U’s is an important milestone for Oxford United in the Community and their ambition to provide every person in Oxfordshire with a positive connection to the football club. It brings a very successful national programme to the county for the first time.
Oxford United in the Community use the power of football and people’s loyalty to the club to reach a unique audience who they know are less likely to present and engage with primary care but are at high risk of developing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. FIT U’s is accessible for both males and females, aged 35-65 years and has proven effective at reaching people living on low incomes and in areas of deprivation.
Participants only need to access one 13-week intervention due to the behaviour change elements underpinning the programme, meaning the funding can reach more people. This programme creates the opportunity and knowledge to improve lifestyle habits which can be sustained long term. The programme has strong evidence in reducing blood pressure, improving dietary habits, increasing physical activity and reducing alcohol consumption particularly amongst male participants at 3, 6 and 12 months post intervention.
They will set up follow-on maintenance multi activity sessions to ensure new healthier behaviours established continue to be sustained.
Oxford United in the Community is working alongside community partners such as such as Easington Sports FC, Age UK Oxfordshire and Active Oxfordshire to engage and recruit participants. They are also using the English Football League Trust’s strong partnership with the National Academy of Social Prescribing to build an effective referral pathway into the programme to reach those individuals of greatest need.
Oxford United FC has also agreed to work with their charity to launch a public awareness campaign, including use of a first team player, to promote positive messages discouraging new smokers and to encourage existing smokers to access smoking cessation resources.