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Aussie-Fit program adapted for rural and remote blokes

“Men residing in rural areas are less likely to participate in weight management interventions than women, and few men-specific programs target rural areas,” concludes a new study published in BMC Health.

A Different Ball Game: Adaptation of men’s health program for implementation in rural Australia – takes the Aussie-Fit weight management program that has been so successful in urban settings, and tests it on seven rural focus groups in three rural towns to inform the adaptation of the program for country blokes.

The researchers – Matthew D. McDonald, Kate Hunt, Joanna Moullin, Deborah Kerr, Nikos Ntoumanis, and Eleanor Quested - adapted the recruitment and marketing strategies, delivery settings, football program theme, and partnerships for rural implementation.

The rural setting, they said, was “a different ball game” due to limited local services and resources in comparison to metropolitan areas. They reported synergies with previous studies in rural contexts in relation to the power of word of mouth, the importance of trust, and partnering with local organisations.

Researchers said the prevalence of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure is higher in rural communities than in urban areas. In addition, physical inactivity was more pronounced in rural areas, particularly among men, and most likely driven by technological advances leading to more sedentary work time.

Rural men were also less likely to join mixed-gender weight management programs than women.

“The Australian Government’s Men’s Health Strategy highlights the need for interventions that support health in priority population groups, including men in rural and low socioeconomic areas. However, men’s weight management programs seldom target rural or low socioeconomic areas.”

The Aussie-Fans in Training (Aussie-Fit) health management program was piloted in 2019 with success in Perth, linking men’s passion for football and their teams with two Australian Football League clubs. Participants attend sessions within a professional footy club setting and are drawn to the program through their passion for an AFL Club.

Aussie-Fit in action: Photo courtesy Aussie-Fit Facebook

Following the successful, Football Fans In Training program in the UK, men lose weight and develop positive health-behaviour changes.

However, the original format of Aussie-FIT centred around AFL clubs and culture, and did not address rural health inequities, said the researchers (predominantly from Curtin University in Perth).

“Aussie-FIT requires adaptation for implementation in rural contexts,” they found.

One key reason is that rural men don’t have the same affiliation with a professional sports club: AFL clubs are only located in major cities. The study set out to explore the services available to support rural men to manage their weight or increase their physical activity and to examine barriers and facilitators to rural implementation and engagement of men across socioeconomic groups.

They also wanted to understand how best to adapt a program like Aussie-FIT in rural areas.

Modifications included:

  • Delivering the program within specific local clubs and ensuring that marketing materials highlighted the eligibility of participants regardless of their footballing experience or skill.
  • Getting popular and trusted community champions to help deliver the program and draw people in using their networks. “It's their good reputation in the community that would then potentially attract people,” said one stakeholder. “To know that it's not going to be just some gimmick program or something that's not going to have value.”
  • The power of ‘Word of Mouth’ was presented as a double-edged sword, both in recruiting participants, amplified by local media promotions, and shutting the program down if “something goes awry.” Again, community champions were considered vital to the program’s continuance and success.
  • Positioning the Aussie-Fit program within the community needed to be done carefully, to counter the sensitivities of rural men taking part in a “weight-loss class,” and the perceptions of others.
  • Emphasising in marketing materials that the program was free.
  • One of the focus groups said Aboriginal men were unlikely to participate even if the program was free. They had little connection with AFL, or being involved with local footy clubs, owing to “entrenched barriers,” and a sense of not being welcome. Suggestions for mitigating these barriers were focused on helping to support men to feel more “culturally comfortable”, including by seeking “early bu- in [from the Aboriginal community]”, employing an “Aboriginal staff member”or providing bespoke deliveries (“run it Aboriginal specific”).
  • Having a well-known and respected football organisation involved in grassroots work as “the face of it [the program]”was proposed as a potentially valuable strategy for garnering local community support.

“These findings have implications for adapting health promotion programs for men in rural areas within non-professional sporting contexts as one means to help redress rural inequalities in men’s health provisions.”

For more detail on how the Aussie-Fit program content and implementation strategy was adapted for men in rural communities, check out the full Framework.

“This study supports understandings of the health promotion landscape in rural areas for men, with a focus on barriers and facilitators to engaging men via local Australian Football settings, and the adaptation of a successful metropolitan-based men’s health program for delivery in rural contexts.”

Download the full report: A Different Ball Game: Adaptation of men’s health program for implementation in rural Australia

Further reading

Aussie-fit repeats with heart health goals (AMHF)


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