In part 1 we saw that men’s participation in weight loss programmes was very low compared to women’s. This has led to a growth in male-specific courses to try and address that imbalance. In part 2 of my blog I’m taking a look at how men’s weight loss courses are promoted and what lessons can be learnt from recent examples.
Is it how the courses are promoted to us that influences our decision making?
In the same way that we buy into any other product or service, people want to know what they are buying (or investing their time in) when it comes to a weight loss programme. Our decisions to take part or not are also influenced by how these products and services are promoted to us and what our peers tell us about their experiences of them.
A review of research by Ahern 2016(3) reported that 90% of participants in commercial weight loss programmes were women (Ahern 2011) and that only 34 out of 271 participants referred by GPs were men (Stubbs 2011). When GPs opportunistically recruited men to programmes (at a consultation about a different health issue) there was only a 12% take up, but when a more structured approach was taken (personal letters written to overweight male patients) this increased to 30%.
In their own research from 2016 Ahern’s group investigated the recruitment of patients to weight loss courses across 23 GP practices. They wrote to equal numbers (7,000 each) of eligible males and females and offered them access to a free weight loss programme. Uptake was low (4.4% of males and 8.5% of females), but the proportion of men and women to enroll on the course was similar to previous findings, i.e. ⅓ men and ⅔ women.
So, we seem to have some evidence that men are more likely to take up an offer of joining a weight loss programme if they receive a formal letter, but what about other methods of promotion that aren’t linked to GP surgeries?
Rounds and Harvey(4) looked at enrollment challenges in recruiting men to a weight loss programme in Vermont, USA. They started with face-to-face contacts in workplaces, but had very little success (6 recruits). Facebook advertising also resulted in disappointing uptake (3 recruits). However, old-fashioned posters (16) and newspaper adverts (67) were much more successful. This compares with my own experiences, as I detail below.
In summary, a brief look at the research tells us that about only 10% of weight loss programme participants are men when they are recruited opportunistically by GPs, but that this can rise to 30% when formal letters are written to them personally. With non-GP marketing, more traditional methods of advertising seemed to work better. We have also had an insight into the thoughts and feelings that men have about weight loss programmes, especially the reasons that they don’t join in. But what about the reasons that some men do opt to join a programme? That’s the next phase of my investigation of the research and it brings in some of my own experiences.
Why do men choose to join weight loss programmes?
The reasons why weight loss is a good thing for anyone who is overweight are well known, but these known dangers of excess body fat are still not enough to convert large numbers of men to convert from being worried about their weight to actually doing something about it. Having said that, there are thousands of men up and down the country burning off the body fat all of the time. So, what made them choose to act?
Elliott’s study from 2020 (see part 1 for reference) reported that men who elected to join a weight loss programme sometimes did so out of fears about further health deterioration, negative consequences of being overweight or the need for surgical interventions for weight. They also said that the personal experiences of friends or family who had become ill or required surgery because of their excess weight made them think that it was time that they acted about their own situation. In sports psychology this type of motivation to act comes under the classification of the fear of failure. The other powerful motivator identified by sports psychologists is the need to achieve, a much more positive driver. In a way, the football fan-focussed courses are promoted along the lines of achieving something for yourself, rather than the fear of failure.
With all of the football club based courses, it is the unbreakable connection between men and the football club that they support that is at the foundation of the course recruitment. There’s a saying that goes; you can change your car, your house, your job and even your wife, but you don’t change the football club that you support. Based on my experience of recruiting participants to these courses, I can say that the draw for fans of taking part in a weight loss programme run by the football club that they have supported since they were boys is a strong draw for the participants. This doesn’t mean that recruitment is easy, but those who made the decision to take part reported feelings of pride in being able to “represent” their team. One fan told me that it would be an honour and that it would make his late father proud. It’s an incredibly powerful connection. Here are some of the examples of how different programmes have used club affiliations to attract fans to the programmes.
All of the promotions focus on the positives of improving health and fitness as well as the connections to the club. The pitch and delivery of the messages is very important so as not to stigmatise or agitate people who are overweight potential participants. We once handed out flyers for the Brentford fanACTIV programme before a Championship home match with Burnley. It was really difficult not to pick out the obviously overweight men even though they were our target group. I had several fans say to me, “are you saying that I’m fat?” My colleague, Lorna was told to “f*ck off.” Promotions in the match programme, on the club website, and via social media were much more effective (this replicates the findings of Elliott’s research), which may have something to do with people having time to read the information, digest it and come to a decision to enrol in their own time, not when they’re hurrying to their seat before a game (in my experience of promoting fanACTIV) or when they are having a break from work (in Elliott’s study).
In Part 3 of my blog I will take a look at weight loss programme content for men and the results that different approaches have achieved.
3. Ahern, A; Aveyard, P; Boyland, E; Halford, J; Jebb, S (2016) Inequalities in the uptake of weight management interventions in a pragmatic trial: an observational study in primary care. British Journal of General Practice.
4. Rounds, T and Harvey, J (2019) Enrollment Challenges: Recruiting Men to Weight Loss Interventions. American Journal of Men’s Health.