27 August 2011
Football for Health in Africa
By Peter Krustrup & Lasse Jensen
With more than 400 million active players, from children to the elderly, football is the world's most popular sport. But football is more than just a game. A research team from the University of Copenhagen has shown how football can help prevent and combat lifestyle diseases. The research project has provided scientific evidence for FIFA's global "Football for Health" programme, which teaches African children about disease prevention in a fun and simple way.
THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION estimates that preventable lifestyle diseases will be responsible for around 70% of all deaths in 2020. It is well-known that an inactive lifestyle is a major contributor to the increasing prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. In an effort to counter these diseases an international group led by researchers from the University of Copenhagen has investigated the fitness and health benefits of recreational football and other sports, especially in relation to preventable lifestyle diseases.
"Recreational football has broad spectrum effects on cardiovascular risk factors and can be used as a part of the treatment for hypertension. Three to four months of football training, one hour twice a week, has robust effects on heart function, aerobic fitness, blood pressure, fat mass, cholesterol, vascular elasticity and branching for 20-50 year-old men and women," explains Associate Professor Peter Krustrup. "For unfit 30-55 year-old men and habitually active 20-45 year-old men with hypertension, blood pressure was lowered substantially, whereas training and dietary advice by medical doctors had no effect." Additionally, regular participation in football training for children and adults has been shown to enhance muscular function, postural balance and bone mineral density, which reduces the risk of falls and fractures.
FIFA health education through football
Common to infectious diseases, heart disease, diabetes and the other major health problems facing Africa is that they are to a large extent preventable. If you practice safe sex, use mosquito nets, are physically active and eat a healthy diet you are a lot more likely to stay healthy, but getting the message across is often the hardest part.
In 2009, just before the World Cup, FIFA launched the health education programme "11 for Health in Africa" for South African children. The research group from Copenhagen provided part of the scientific evidence for the health programme, which involves 11 simple key messages about prevention, each one connected to a specific football skill.
In a pilot project, local trainers used "11 for Health in Africa" in two schools in Khayelitsha Township, South Africa, and the researchers found that the participating girls and boys significantly improved their knowledge about health. Two years later, in 2011, "11 for Health in Africa" has been expanded to include as many as 75,000 children in South Africa, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia.
11 for Health in Africa - the eleve health messages:
1. Health Message 1: Play football regularly
Football Skill = play football
2. Health Message 2: Respect girls and women
Football Skill = passing
3. Health Message 3: Protect yourself from HIV
Football Skill = heading
4. Health Message 4: Avoid drugs and alcohol
Football Skill = dribbling
5. Health Message 5: Use treated bed nets
Football Skill = shielding
6. Health Message 6: Wash your hands
Football Skill = defending
7. Health Message 7: Drink clean water
Football Skill = trapping
8. Health Message 8: Eat a balanced diet
Football Skill = building fitness
9. Health Message 9: Vaccinate yourself and family
Football Skill = shooting
10. Health Message 10: Take prescribed medication
Football Skill = goalkeeping
11. Health Message 11: Fair play
Football Skill = teamwork
FIFA's educational programme "11 for Health in Africa" teaches children and youngsters in South Africa about prevention of infectious diseases and non-communicable lifestyle diseases.
The Football and Health Research Team is headed by Associate Professor Peter Krustrup and Professor Jens Bangsbo from the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Copenhagen and the team collaborates with more than 50 senior researchers in ten countries, including the UK, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Russia, the US, Kenya and Iran.
This article is also published in the Profile / GLOBAL HEALTH # 2 magazine.
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