The power of people in shaping good health
The presence of a strong support network can have positive effects on a person’s general health and mental well-being. A team of researchers at The University of Western Australia (UWA) have dedicated their research to understanding the power of others in shaping healthy behaviours.
Psychology of Active Healthy Living
Since launching in 2013, the Psychology of Active Healthy Living (PAHL) group has operated closely as a team to deliver collaborative, international research with graduate students based at UWA’s School of Human Sciences. Led by Dr James Dimmock and Dr Ben Jackson, the team’s common focus is to advance an understanding of health and physical activity and to implement community-based health promotion interventions.
A key message for people looking to lose weight or improve their mental health is to seek support from other people. That’s a key theme that flows through our work. Surround yourself with people that you trust and enjoy being around, and you’ll reap health benefits.
Dr James Dimmock, UWA
Interested in understanding the challenges faced by new mothers, in 2017 the PAHL team interviewed more than 30 first-time mums in WA to better understand their perspectives about the challenges associated with the transition to motherhood. The results showed that the varied challenges they faced—such as caring for a new baby, managing relationships, breastfeeding, and undertaking daily activities—were placing psychological demands on new mothers.
The team developed the Mummy Buddy Program in 2017. This community-based peer support program has brought together first-time mums with a personal mentor, a ‘Mummy Buddy’, who has children aged between one to five years and has already navigated the challenges of motherhood. The team worked with Ngala, a community based organisation supporting parents, families and communities to train the mentors.
The program is designed to target a reduction in stress and improve confidence in first-time mothers and as a consequence, improve maternal mental health. The feasibility study was supported by Heathway.
Feedback from participants reinforced the belief that having good social support in the postpartum period creates a positive impact on maternal mental health.
MAN v FAT Soccer Australia
Losing weight is difficult, and doing it alone can feel impossible. In Australia (MAN v FAT Football (UK) program. It resonated with him and his colleagues as a great way for men to lose weight. Whilst many good weight loss options existed for women, few were targeted at engaging men.
Consistent with their other programs, MAN v FAT Soccer harnesses the power of people to realise health benefits whilst keeping the program as fun as possible. The PAHL team delivered MAN v FAT Soccer to Australia in 2018, under an ongoing license, with the support of UWA and UWA Sport.
Overweight or obese players can register for the program, and are placed into teams using a system that balances the overall weight of players evenly across the teams. A team’s position on the league ladder is then determined by what happens on the pitch—by the number of goals scored and conceded—as well as what happens off the pitch. Players score extra goals for their team by losing weight in the week leading up to their match. Incentives are also built into the scoring system for players who reach and maintain their goal weight.
Everyone contributes and the scoring format means that everyone can gain that sense of confidence knowing they’re chipping in to their team’s goals.
Dr James Dimmock
PAHL currently hosts a UWA league and a Cockburn league – plans are in place to expand the program across the State, and further afield, through 2019. Each leagues run three seasons per year, allowing more registrants to participate in the program. Registrations are via the MAN v FAT Soccer website.
The support received by PAHL in delivering MAN v FAT has been greatly appreciated. Heathway’s three year funding has contributed to the program’s expansion in WA, the recruitment of program staff, and helps subsidise first-season player fees. Strong links with Football West have enabled wider community reach. Current and ex Perth Glory players have shown their support by visiting training sessions at the UWA and Cockburn leagues. As well, UWA Sport has partnered with PAHL with great support from Tara Schwarze, Sport and Recreation Manager and Ian Fitzpatrick, General Manager.
PAHL have integrated as much of their research as possible into developing the MAN v FAT program for Australia, contributing to its success and impact within the community.
The power of positive communication
PAHL’s 2017 study of student motivation in high school physical education activities revealed the importance of teachers using a model of positive communication to enhance students’ in-class experiences.
The team have worked with teachers and physiotherapists, edited a book on the topic, and have integrated this model into their programs. MAN v FAT coaches have found that the techniques have been effective in engaging participants.
We’ve seen specifically with the MAN v FAT guys that they’re moving more. As a result they’re feeling better, sleeping better and eating better.
Dr Ben Jackson, UWA
Of the 87 player in the original season at UWA, over 60 have returned to a WA league in the first season of 2019. Others have used MAN v FAT as a tool to help build their fitness and their confidence to the point where they are now registered with local social soccer clubs.
Exercise and snacking
People often find physical activity exercise to be arduous and pressurizing. However, through their research the PAHL team have found that when people perceive physical activity as enjoyable and their choice, they are more likely to consume healthier and less foods overall after exercising.
MAN v FAT Soccer incorporates these concepts into its program for weight loss. The program encourages new healthy habits be maintained at home and in the long term. The unique format captures the strong camaraderie of players forming a team and developing their own identity, whilst at the same time helping each other to lose weight in a fun way.
A few guys have told us that the changes that they made have knocked on to their family as well. Their wives and their kids are all eating better as a family and feeling even better and are more active.
Dr Ben Jackson, UWA
Self-motivation and support
There is a strong motivational force built in to the MAN v FAT program, including strategies designed to create a desire in individuals to lose weight, and then keep that weight off in the long term.
- Autonomy for players to take charge of changes to their own diet and health requirements. This fosters positive forms of motivation.
- Coach support via weekly forum updates. Coaches post broad general advice relating to portion control and healthier food and drink options.
- Peer support via WhatsApp group chats. This group support not only gives players a sense of ownership of the program, it brings out natural mentors within the group. Members are helping each other out in terms of getting the best out of the program.
- A food and drink diary is presented to coaches weekly. Self-monitoring of what is going into our bodies is a very effective form of long term behaviour change, particularly when it comes to weight loss.
- Team accountability via pitch scores and at weekly weigh-ins.
- MAN v FAT is fun! Its gamification of weight loss makes the exercise as enjoyable as possible.
These guys are proud of making a change and actually taking some action. They’ve seen lots of positive change as a result. That’s the thing that makes us happiest about the program.
Dr Ben Jackson, UWA
Improved mental health
In their first 15-week season in 2018, the 87 UWA MAN v FAT league participants lost a total of 515 kilograms. Notably, participants also reported significant mental health gains.
PAHL PhD student Timothy Budden measured UWA participants at the start and end of the 2018 season, recording positive results after 15 weeks, in the areas of:
- Reduced depression
- Reduced stress
- Improved self-esteem and optimism
- Improved self-body image
- Improved overall health
The strong camaraderie built into the program also adds a protective aspect against mental health issues.
They are a lot more confident as a person. You can see it in the way they talk and the way they look at you.
Dr James Dimmock, UWA
The results will continue to be measured over time. Due to the support strategies provided by the program, it is hoped that the results will be sustained in the long term.