Kicking Off a Bonding Session with Improved Health

Community-based education programme uses the camaraderie of sport to keep Australian men engaged in their health.

Since her dad died prematurely of cancer at the age of 60, in 2007, Emma George from Western’s School of Health Sciences has dedicated her career to encouraging men to be proactive about their health.

Her latest endeavour is a community-based programme called Active Breed, which has the support of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Rugby League Club. It began in western Sydney in 2018 as a 12-week pilot education programme to help male football fans pursue healthy lifestyle behaviours, improve health literacy, and learn how to engage with health services. Sessions were followed by a 45-minute touch football game among participants. “Later focus groups found that the solidarity built during the games was one of the main motivators for ongoing participation,” explains George. The hope is the programme will be rolled out nationwide. 

A randomised controlled trial in 2019-20 showed reductions in weight, waist circumference, boosted physical activity, improved mental health, and reduced sugary drink consumption. Subsequent focus groups with men and their families found broader impacts, including improvements in family relationships, increased discussion of mental health and domestic violence, and changes in the family’s physical activity and diet. Active Breed is now ready to be set up as a community programme run through a range of sporting clubs and workplaces.

Need to know

  • Men are less likely to use health services than women.
  • Playing sport is a powerful motivator for ongoing participation in health education. 
  • Men’s engagement with their health had flow on effects for their families.

George explains that, compared to women, men generally are less likely to use health services and tend to seek help for illness at a later stage. These behavioural factors explain why Australian women tend to live five or six years longer on average than men.

The programme was originally designed for people like George’s dad. “He was a typical Aussie bloke who probably didn’t engage as much as he could have with health services and didn’t always talk about how he was feeling,” she says, explaining that it goes beyond offering physical health support. “We also used football as a platform to start conversations about men’s mental health, health service engagement and domestic violence awareness.”  

Tom Phee, 60, was typical of the men who entered the Active Breed pilot program, planning to “get a bit fitter, lose a bit of weight”, which he did. “I became motivated to start exercising again, shed 5kg and lost 5cm around the belly,” he explains. While that didn’t really surprise him, what did was how Active Breed helped improve his mental health. When Tom began developing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms related to his experiences during three decades as a firefighter, he was inspired by the programme’s mental health sessions to seek help from a counsellor. “It really put my mind at ease,” he says. He now returns to the programme as a mentor, notably during the mental health components, to share his experiences


© Canterbury Bankstown Rugby League Clubh © Olga Guryanova/unsplash  © LinkedIn Sale Solutions/unsplash
Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.