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Emory HealthMPowers Receive $2.5 Million from RWJF for Youth Physical Activity Study

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded a grant for approximately $2.5 million to Emory University 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 Dr. Julie Gazmararian, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Emory, 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. Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Ms. 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.”