We searched state- and nation-wide for 5 years, reviewing hundreds of programs & studies. We were committed to finding the most effective, scalable, & affordable programs to increase activity & improve nutrition. These programs needed to be able to prove with compelling evidence that they worked—and with a high enough ROI to become self-funding (per our SEAS Systems Change paradigm).

Two major, nationally significant, K-12 breakthroughs, developed in Arizona, provide clear evidence for this. Our two initial “flagship” programs slash the growth of child obesity and increase the % of fit K-12 students up to 4x—saving hundreds of dollars per child, and tens of thousands of dollars per adult later in life.

Empower Youth Health Program

The Empower Youth Health Program is a comprehensive program that dramatically improves student fitness and nutrition habits, including child obesity. EYHP uses the Plan-Train-Assess (P-T-A) model:

  • Plan: Develop effective school wellness policy/plan for health promotion at each school, including school administrators and food services staff, and developing a school health advisory council (SHAC) with community partnerships.
  • Train: Professionally develop high-quality standards-based instruction among school staff to optimize physical and nutrition/health education, including by classroom teachers, to maximize moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), including classroom “brain/activity breaks”.
  • Assess: Regularly assess students’ fitness, physical activity, nutrition behavior, and BMI, in order to quantify and increase impact.

The Empower Youth Health Program increased the % of students with cardiovascular aerobic fitness 4x, from 17% to 78% of all students. There was also a >6x increase in % of students with healthier nutrition habits: 11% to 73% consuming recommended fruit & vegetable servings. In addition, the % of students with BMI (height/weight ratio) at the level of fitness needed for good lifelong health increased by 12.5%, from 48% to 54% of students. These outcomes were measured objectively by aerobic capacity (PACER), BMI, & muscular strength & endurance metrics, as well as CDC-validated nutrition question responses.



EYHP was implemented in 20 low-income Title 1 southern Arizona schools with approximately 16,000 students. Free & Reduced Lunch (FRL) population ranged from 79-98%, and included approximately 90% Latino, 5% Native-American, 3% White, and 2% African-American student populations. EYHP was funded by a 3-year federal grant from 2012-2015.

Listen to what teachers and students have to say about physical education at their schools, including EYHP-based approaches, and review a report on the Empower Youth Health Program as implemented 2012-2015 in Tucson, Arizona with a 3-year federal PEP grant.


NAH’s Fit Kids of Northern Arizona

Northern Arizona Healthcare has been investing close to $1 million annually since 2012 in its school-based program, Fit Kids of Northern Arizona. If every other major hospital group in the state did the same, that would provide approximately $100M/year in new money to schools to improve physical education and physical activity.

Fit Kids provides a full-time health aide at each of ~20 participating K-8 public school in the greater Flagstaff, Williams and Verde Valley areas. This includes close to 10,000 students, including many lower-income, Latino and Native-American students at predominantly Title 1 schools.

Students engage in a mandatory additional 45 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), beyond existing recess and physical education time. Students also have the option to engage in additional physical activity at lunchtime and after-school, throughout the week. (The program also includes nutrition education, plus clinical components for children with the greatest obesity & health challenges.)

Child obesity in this student population had been increasing rapidly. Fit Kids cut the growth rate of child obesity in half during its first two years, as evaluated by regular BMI measurements of students. This is a significant breakthrough nationally.

In addition, Fit Kids pays for itself annually. Physical activity costs of approximately $60-70 per student invested in Fit Kids are estimated, based on a range of health studies on obesity & MVPA, to save $75-100+/year per child in obesity-related costs, asthma, ADHD, behavioral health, and other child health conditions related to inactivity and unhealthy nutrition.

Review reports by Northern Arizona University (NAU) evaluating Fit Kids of Northern Arizona.

Please see our latest slide deck for more details.