Active Design Projects Build Student Health in New York City


In New York City (NYC), many students do not meet the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by the CDC. In the 2012-2013 school year, nearly four in 10 NYC public school students in grades K-8 were overweight or obese (39.5 percent).


To tackle this problem, the Fund for Public Health in New York City (FPHNYC) secured funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to enhance school spaces to encourage an increase in physical activity. With the Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH) award, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the Department of Education (DOE), along with Citizens Committee for New York City (CCNYC), used strategies designed to improve health highlighted in the Active Design Toolkit for Schools, which straddle four key domains: active recreation; green space and nature; healthy foods and beverages; and getting to and from school.

The Health Department and partners developed this Toolkit under a previous CDC award (Community Transformation Grant). The Toolkit was inspired by conversations with New Yorkers who envisioned creative ways of implementing active design strategies in schools. This Toolkit includes feedback from students, teachers, and staff, who are foremost experts in their schools, on what changes were most needed.


Over the three-year PICH project period, FPHNYC and CCNYC supported more than 60 projects in almost 60 elementary, middle and high schools, with technical assistance and funding. Schools used the funds to improve gardens, install water bottle refill stations, stairwell murals and other evidence-based enhancements to encourage physical activity. These changes increased physical activity opportunities for more than 40,000 students across all five boroughs. By collaborating in Years 2 and 3 with Building Healthy Communities (BHC), a NYC mayoral initiative aiming to improve community health outcomes, an additional 14 schools were supported though city funding.


Overall, the PICH award was instrumental in strengthening the partnership between DOHMH and DOE and improving the process for these two City agencies to connect and support schools that seek to create lasting improvements that facilitate physical activity for students. Finally, this model, developed as part of the PICH award, has already been replicated to support small-scale built environment improvements in additional schools.


FPHNYC seeks support for this program. We welcome donations or grants in the range of $10,000 to $300,000. For more information, please contact Aviva Goldstein at or (646) 710-4853.