The European Fans in Training (EuroFIT) programme was also found to have led to improvements in the men’s sense of wellbeing and self-esteem.
The EU-funded scheme involved more than 1,100 men between the ages of 30 and 65 who are fans of football clubs in England, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.
Arsenal, Manchester City, PSV Eindhoven, Rosenborg and FC Porto were among the clubs involved in the programme, which was based on a model developed in Scotland.
During the EuroFIT programme, fans attended weekly 90-minute sessions with community coaches at club facilities over 12 weeks. The aim was to increase their levels of physical activity and improve their diet.
A pocket-worn device developed for the programme allowed monitoring of the length of time spent sitting and the number of daily steps participants were doing, while an app encouraged social support between sessions.
Participants were split into two groups – the first joining the EuroFIT programme immediately and the second being placed on a 12-month waiting list.
After a year, men who took part in EuroFIT were doing on average 678 steps a day more than the comparison group.
The men had also improved their diet by eating more fruit and vegetables, less fat and less sugar and had increased their wellbeing and vitality.
Attempts to reduce the length of time spent sitting were unsuccessful.
The research papers found there were “significant improvements in diet, weight, wellbeing, self-esteem, vitality, and biomarkers of cardiometabolic health in favour of the intervention group”, although not in their quality of life.
EuroFIT was built on the experience of the Football Fans in Training (FFIT) programme for overweight and obese men, which was developed and evaluated by researchers led by the University of Glasgow.
It is delivered in Scotland by the Scottish Professional Football League Trust and has been adapted for use in Canada and Australia.
Professor Sally Wyke, the programme’s principal investigator, said: “The results of our randomised control trial of EuroFIT support the findings of the earlier FFIT study.
“Gender-sensitised lifestyle programmes delivered in professional football clubs show great promise in Europe and could play an important public health role in engaging under-served men.”
The English clubs involved were Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Stoke City.
The other clubs across Europe taking part were ADO Den Haag, FC Groningen, PSV Eindhoven, Vitesse, Rosenborg, Stromsgodset, Valerenga, Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP.
The European Healthy Stadia Network will be responsible for the rollout of EuroFIT across Europe.
Matthew Philpott, the network’s executive director, said: “We are hugely excited about the rollout of EuroFIT as we now know this intervention is effective across different European countries.”