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Fall is the time to be cheering for your favorite football or soccer team, since the regular seasons in both sports are already underway. For die-hard fans whose self-identities are tied to affiliations with certain teams, fall can be synonymous with an emotional rollercoaster. A recent study titled, From Fan to Fat? Vicarious Losing Increases Unhealthy Eating, but Self-Affirmation Is an Effective Remedy, concluded that your eating habits can be effected the day after a game, depending on whether your team wins or loses.

This research looked at fans of the National Football League (NFL) teams and consumption of food on the Monday after a defeat or a win. It concluded that fans on the losing side consumed 16% more saturated fats and 10% more calories. If your team was on the winning side on Sunday, you were likely to consume 9% less saturated fats and 5% fewer calories. Amounts of saturated fat consumption increased if your team was playing an opponent of equal strength, if your team lost by a narrow margin or if your team was defeated unexpectedly. Similarly, soccer fans were more likely to have poor eating habits after a defeat.

Other research has examined fans and rates of cardiac arrest, concluding that cardiac arrest rates increase when your team loses. During the 2006 World Cup of Soccer in Germany, cardiac arrest cases increased when Germany lost a match, when a game was very close or when a game went to the wire. When Germany won or when they played a meaningless match, heart attack rates did not increase.

In football, researchers discovered that it did not make a difference whether you were a male or female fan. However, there tend to be more male than female fans. In the case of soccer, it was concluded that during the 2006 World Cup, cardiac arrest among males tripled, while it doubled in females.

Some options to consider in minimizing health risks while enjoying a game or match

  1. Self affirmation – the process of identifying and focusing on one’s most important values.
  2. Make an effort to consume healthy food during and in the hours and days following the game, regardless of the outcome.
  3. Switch teams!

Many sports fans invest a great deal of time and money cheering for their teams. The competitive season can be long. A team may have a banner year or may be dismal. However, there are die-hard fans who will cheer for teams whether they are good or utterly terrible, season in and season out. Given the health risks associated with being a sports fan, it might be time to examine our priorities since in truth, there is always the next game or the next year.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Griffin D, Harris P. Calibrating the Response to Health Warnings: Limiting Both Overreaction and Underreaction With Self-Affirmation. Psychological Science (Sage Publications Inc.). May 2011;22(5):572-578.
2. Hyatt C. How is loyalty to a professional sports team originally established, and what factors play a role when allegiances are switched: a qualitative examination of the team-switching phenomenon. (Abstract). In 17th Annual North American Society for Sport Management Conference. NASSM abstracts, May 29-June 1, 2002, Canmore, Alberta, Canmore, Alta., North American Society for Sport Management, 2002, p.41–42. Canada: 2002.
3. O’Sullivan T, Hafekost K, Mitrou F, Lawrence D. Food Sources of Saturated Fat and the Association With Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal Of Public Health. September 2013;103(9):e31-e42.
4. Pollock P. Unhealthy Habits. Black Belt . August 2012;50(8):32.
5. Sweeney D, Quimby D. Exploring the Physical Health Behavior Differences between High and Low Identified Sports Fans. Sport Journal. January 2012;15:1.
6. Vallerand R, Ntoumanis N, Maliha G, et al. On passion and sports fans: A look at football. Journal Of Sports Sciences . October 2008;26(12):1279-1293.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.