Rollins School of Public Health and HealthMPowers receive $2.5 million from RWJF for youth physical activity study

March 2, 2017

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded a grant for approximately $2.5 million to Emory's Rollins School of Public Health to examine the relationship between physical activity and academic achievement among elementary students in Georgia. The project will begin this month, with research and evaluation activities led by Julie Gazmararian, PhD, MPH, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University, and program implementation led by HealthMPowers, a nonprofit organization that will provide schools with Health Empowers You!, an evidence-based school physical activity program. 

Although the health benefits of physical activity are well known, and physical activity has been a public health priority over the years, most youth in the United States still do not meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Gazmararian and colleagues aim to provide evidence that increased physical activity also improves academic achievement in order to motivate schools to improve policies and integrate more physical activity in the school day. 

"Since the school environment serves more than 95 percent of youth, it is an important setting to impact both health and education outcomes," explains Gazmararian. "Although past research suggests that physical activity may improve education outcomes, our study is using an established program that enables schools to easily integrate physical activity into their daily class time. With a rigorous study design and a program that fits into schools' busy schedules, this project will be valuable for those in the health and education communities who are developing programs and policies to help students be healthy and achieve academic success."

The team will test the relationship between physical activity and education outcomes among fourth and fifth grade elementary students over two years, with specific objectives that include examining the relationship between student-level physical activity and academic achievement measured by standardized tests, and the mechanisms through which improvements may occur.

"We believe that the research and data from this project will be extremely beneficial to school administrators, policy makers, researchers, and educational and health agencies," explains Christi Kay, president of HealthMPowers. "Our project will provide crucial evidence about the association between physical activity and educational outcomes that can have a tremendous impact on school policies to support healthy lifestyles."

Support for this research will be provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

About The Rollins School of Public Health

The Rollins School of Public Health is a top-ranked public health program comprised of the six academic departments: behavioral sciences and health education, biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health policy and management, and global health.  Rollins also hosts over two dozen interdisciplinary centers and more than 200 full-time, doctoral-level faculty members who teach and conduct research in areas such as mathematical modeling of infectious disease transmission, exploring relationships between nutrition and chronic disease, and investigating cancer causation and control. Students join the Rollins community from all 50 states and from more than 40 foreign countries to contribute to the school and apply knowledge to promote health and prevent disease in human populations.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter @RWJF or on Facebook at

About HealthMPowers, Inc.

A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, HealthMPowers Inc. was founded in 1999 to promote healthy eating and physical activity in schools using evidence-based guidelines established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organization promotes health-enhancing behaviors among youth by providing in-school services and trainings. Health education lessons are presented in a memorable and interactive way, helping each student build a foundation for making responsible health decisions throughout their life. Health promotion programs and services are provided to students, teachers and families. For more information, visit and follow on Facebook ( and Twitter (@HealthMPowersU).