Our research

The AUT Human Potential Centre has an outstanding track record for its world-class research, postgraduate student success, and for securing competitive external research funding and grants. The research centre has a dedicated team of teaching and research staff, all of whom are research experts and well respected in their chosen fields.

Working collaboratively with researchers from New Zealand and international academic and government institutions, the Human Potential Centre has been awarded external research funding from the Health Research Council, Sport New Zealand, the World Health Organization, local authorities and commercial partners.

The centre is part of the AUT Sports Performance Research Institute of New Zealand (SPRINZ), which is based at AUT Millennium.

Current research

Partnering with schools and teachers to integrate HIIT into the curriculum represents a potentially scalable and sustainable way to equip adolescents with the understanding that a personal exercise habit for holistic wellbeing need not be based on high duration commitment.

In an Aotearoa New Zealand context, with an underpinning of a mātauranga Māori enhanced approach, there may be an option that provides a unique combination of potency, palatability, practicality, and translatability to reach our youth in a school environment.

This study aims to contribute to a reduction in mental health problems of adolescents by determining the effects of embedding a mātauranga Māori enhanced, teacher-delivered HIIT programme within the school health and physical education (PE) curriculum in socioeconomically deprived neighbourhoods.

The research also seeks to determine the potential for its broader implementation via determination of the overall acceptability of such an approach to participant students, their schools, and the teachers involved in its delivery.

Human Potential Centre researchers

  • Associate Professor Scott Duncan
  • Associate Professor Nigel Harris


  • Dr Denise Atkins, AUT
  • Dr Robert Borotkanics, AUT
  • Dr Theresa Fleming, Victoria University, Wellington
  • Professor David Lubans, University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Dr Isaac Warbrick, AUT

The aim of this study is to determine the preliminary efficacy and feasibility of embedding a teacher-delivered HIIT exercise programme within the school health and physical education curriculum at Year 8.

A range of health, fitness, and academic measures will be used to determine effectiveness. This novel research would contribute towards the goal of understanding, maintaining and enhancing the health of our youth.

This project was funded by the Health Research Council.

Human Potential Centre researchers

  • Associate Professor Scott Duncan
  • Associate Professor Nigel Harris


  • Dr Denise Atkins, AUT
  • Dr Robert Borotkanics, AUT
  • Professor David Lubans, University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Associate Professor Alain Vandal, AUT
  • Dr Isaac Warbrick, AUT

Te Hotonga Hapori is the result of a 24-month, collaborative, co-design process involving partner organisations with a shared vision:  to enhance the impact of urban redevelopment on community wellbeing. The overarching purpose of this research programme is to positively impact the transformational urban regeneration and redevelopment projects taking place across New Zealand. The sheer scale of current urban transformation initiatives means that enhancing their impact on community wellbeing will have significant and long-lasting benefits for New Zealand society.

Human Potential Centre researchers

  • Associate Professor Scott Duncan
  • Professor Erica Hinckson
  • Dr Lisa Mackay
  • Dr Tom Stewart
  • Dr Moushumi Chaudhury
  • Julia McPhee
  • Dee Holdsworth-Perks
  • Megan Somerville-Ryan


  • Professor Gail Pacheco, AUT
  • Associate Professor Albert Refiti, AUT
  • Dr Kabir Dasgupta, AUT
  • Associate Professor Dan Exeter, University of Auckland
  • Conal Smith, Kotata Insights
  • Dr Vivienne Ivory, WSP
  • Helen Kerr, Isthmus
  • Louelle Botes, Kāinga Ora

Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) is an inequitable health burden in New Zealand. This research activation project will create a ‘research ready’ online lifestyle program which has the capability to assess outcomes using pre- and post-program data, as well as engage and educate participants in lifestyle behaviour change. This work will lead to further health delivery research in large scale application of this program in NZ for T2D.

Human Potential Centre researchers

  • Professor Grant Schofield
  • Dr Caryn Zinn
    Dr Catherine Crofts


  • Dr Louise Schofield, PreKure

Past research

Built Environments and Physical Activity in New Zealand Youth (BEANZ)

The study was part of an international collaboration across ten countries, aiming to characterise the links between place and adolescent health. We measured the strengths of association of the built environment with physical activity, sedentary behaviour, body size and community connectedness in 1,600 NZ adolescents (12-18) years.

The research findings will inform national and international urban design policy and interventions to support youth being more active and connected with their communities.

Human Potential Centre researchers: Professor Grant Schofield, Professor Erica Hinckson and Associate Professor Scott Duncan

Collaborators: Suzanne Mavoa  (SHORE & Whariki Research Centre), Dr Hannah Badland (University of Melbourne), Ester Cerin (University of Hong Kong), Vivienne Ivory (University of Otago, Wellington)

Built environments, physical activity and obesity: a national and international study

The AUT Human Potential Centre (then known as the Centre for Physical Activity & Nutrition (CPAN)), in collaboration with Massey University, the University of Auckland and the University of Otago, conducted a three-year project to explore the associations between body size and physical activity engagement in adults and children with built environment variables in their neighbourhoods.

Human Potential Centre researchers: Professor Grant Schofield, Dr Hannah Badland, Dr Melody Oliver and Professor Erica Hinckson.

Collaborators: Professor Will Hopkins (AUT), Associate Professor Karen Witten (Massey University), Professor Robin Kearns (University of Auckland), Dr Vivienne Ivory (University of Otago), Professor Tony Blakely (University of Otago), Suzanne Mavoa (Massey University), Dr Helen Moewaka Barnes (Massey University) and Hector Kaiwai (Massey University).

The Global Positioning Systems in Health Research Network (GPS-HRN)

The GPS-HRN was an international initiative led by members of the Centre for Physical Activity & Nutrition (now known as the AUT Human Potential Centre). The aim of the network was to provide a communication forum that enables GPS researchers to collaborate by posting latest news, equipment reviews and relevant publications.

Human Potential Centre researchers: Associate Professor Scott Duncan, Dr Hannah Badland, Dr Melody Oliver

Collaborators: Professor Yves Schlutz (Lausanne University). For other collaborators visit www.gps-hrn.org

Healthy homework: A physical activity and nutrition intervention for children

While most health promotion interventions in children focus on the school setting, evidence suggests that children are less active and have greater access to energy-dense foods outside of school. This novel study aimed to develop and test an applied homework programme that requires children to be active and eat well at home.

Human Potential Centre researchers: Associate Professor Scott Duncan, Professor Grant Schofield and Caryn Zinn

Collaborators: Associate Professor Rachael Taylor (University of Otago), Professor Jim Mann (University of Otago), Professor Sheila Williams (University of Otago), Associate Professor Claire McLachlan (Massey University) and Dr Kuni Jenkins (Awanuiarangi).

PLAY - Improving school playgrounds to enhance physical activity and reduce the prevalence of obesity and bullying in NZ school children

Improving the quality of permanent play facilities in schools may offer an innovative, cost-effective, long-term solution for promoting healthy behaviours in children. The aim of this collaborative study was to determine if increasing the number of permanent play facilities in primary schools increases physical activity and reduces the rate of excessive weight gain.

Human Potential Centre researcher: Professor Grant Schofield

Collaborators: Dr Rachel Taylor (University of Otago), Professor Jim Mann (Unviersity of Otago) and Professor Sheila Williams (University of Otago)

Pacific Islands families: Child and parental physical activity and body size

This study was part of a longitudinal birth cohort and involved the measurement of physical activity in Pacific Island children and their mothers. Relationships between physical activity and health and wellbeing variables were also examined.

Human Potential Centre researchers: Professor Elaine Rush, Professor Grant Schofield and Dr Melody Oliver

Collaborators: Professor Janis Paterson (AUT) and Professor Philip Schluter (AUT)

Kids in the City

This study was one of the first internationally to examine the association of specific urban design attributes with child independent mobility. The study was located in six Auckland, New Zealand neighbourhoods, diverse in terms of urban design attributes, particularly residential density.

Participants comprised children aged 9-11 years and their parents/caregivers.

Objective measures (GPS, accelerometers, GIS, observational audits) were used to assess children's independent mobility and physical activity, neighbourhood infrastructure and streetscape attributes. Parents' and children's neighbourhood perceptions and experiences were assessed using qualitative research methods and go-along interviews.

For more information, see: doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-587

Human Potential Centre researcher: Dr Melody Oliver

Collaborators: Professor Karen Witten, Suzanne Mavoa (Massey), Professor Robin Kearns (University of Auckland), Dr Hannah Badland (University of Melbourne)

Australian Sports Outreach Program Evaluation (Tonga)

This research focused on encouraging Tongan women to participate in netball activities through a nationwide campaign in the first quarter of 2012. The study then evaluated the outcomes of the campaign using a community intercept quantitative survey, as well as longitudinal qualitative case studies to investigate social inclusion questions.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Grant Schofield, Julia McPhee, Kate White, Deb MacRae

Collaborators: Sustineo Pty Ltd

Epo'n Keramen Program Evaluation (Nauru)

The main aim of the research in Nauru was to investigate whether programme beneficiaries adopted more healthy behaviours as a result of participation in Australian Sports Outreach Program activities. The research assessed the type of changes witnessed and the magnitude of these changes over time.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Grant Schofield, Julia McPhee, Kate White, Deb MacRae

Collaborators: Sustineo Pty Ltd

Workplace evaluation and health surveys in three Pacific Island Countries (2011): Tuvalu, Tonga, Kiribati

Evaluation procedures are essential for continued health programme improvement. This research project carried out formative evaluations of existing policies and workplace based health programmes in Tuvalu, Tonga and Kiribati. The assistance in health survey conduct was requested and the researchers screened a total of approximately 600 individuals from the three countries.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Grant Schofield and Katja Siefken

Collaborators: Ministry of Health Tuvalu, Tonga, Kiribati

Vanuatu (2011): Wokabaot Jalens

The research team developed and implemented a novel healthy lifestyle intervention targeting female civil servants. Culturally meaningful social marketing tools were designed. The intervention was conducted in a collaborative approach with the Ministry of Health Vanuatu.

This project was part of a doctoral thesis and was funded through the World Health Organization South Pacific office.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Grant Schofield and Katja Siefken

Collaborators: Ministry of Health, Vanuatu

Vanuatu (2010): Community NCD elimination project in Aniwa & Aneythium

This research focused on the assessment and assistance in NCD prevention projects in two outer islands in the rural community in Vanuatu. This included the assistance in an NCD screening (data collection, monitoring, evaluation) and the assessment of interventions that were implemented since September 2009 (NCD clinic, NCD education and community policies). The final report illustrated the current community health programme and progress since 2009 and provided recommendations for further programme improvement.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Grant Schofield and Katja Siefken

Collaborators: Ministry of Health, Vanuatu

Vanuatu (2009): Walk for Life

The government-based health workplace programme Walk for Life was implemented by the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu in 2007 to tackle non communicable diseases (NCDs) in the workplace. The research team assessed and evaluated the Walk for Life programme in the Vanuatu public service in September 2009, including a stocktake of existing interventions to identify how new interventions can be used to improve the programme. Recommendations for future work with the programme were provided.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Grant Schofield and Katja Siefken

Collaborators: Ministry of Health, Vanuatu

Sovereign Wellbeing Index

This research aimed to understand better what helps bring out the best in New Zealanders lives and how a constantly changing society can adjust to keep striving towards the goal of wellbeing for everyone. The first step to obtaining this was to better assess wellbeing at a national level and how it is changing over time.

The Sovereign Wellbeing Index aimed to show:

  • The people and places in New Zealand who are getting the most out of life
  • Insight in the components that build New Zealanders' wellbeing
  • Who in New Zealand is best prepared to deal with the highs and lows (eg economic catastrophe, environmental catastrophe)
  • What can be changed at both an individual and societal level to make New Zealand a better place to live

Free2Move events and technology

Free2Move events were designed to provide opportunities for people to get into a simple, regular exercise habit with their friends and families. Ongoing participation was the aim – not winning with fast times! Entry was free, with courses suitable for walking or running between 2.5 km and 5 km located in local parks that are easy to access.

Community volunteers organised the events – same day, same time every week – and simple technology was used to log participation and track who was establishing a good healthy exercise habit.

Free2Move technology was also used to support one-off events that encouraged physical activity, including the Active Post “Post Run” at the AUT Millennium Open Day, where kids could run alongside their sporting idols.

The Human Potential Centre furniture design: "MOVE & work productivity"

The team at the AUT Human Potential Centre have been using standing desks in their workspace for several years. As an alternative to office furniture that is designed to be comfortable our furniture is "un-ergonomic". Our height adjustable stools allow sitting for short times before it becomes more comfortable to stand.

We have found that we stand more often as we have become accustomed to the new furniture, and everyone in the office finds a different use for individual pieces. Desks and chairs provide storage space, and storage units act as  alternative seating. The desktops can be removed and used as coffee tables. All units are fully mobile and our office space rarely looks the same from one week to the next.

Brief interventions in primary care and workplace settings

This programme aimed to determine whether, and to what extent, brief interventions (small lifestyle changes) implemented in primary care and workplace settings are effective in the promotion of physical activity and nutrition, the management of weight, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and changing lifestyle behaviour.

This programme, named Healthy As, was developed to provide resources for the delivery of a programme that promotes sustainable lifestyle change by incorporating physical activity into everyday life. Motivational interviewing was used as a technique to encourage participants to set their own goals based on their lifestyles and responsibilities.

Employees received a CVD risk assessment in their workplace. Workplace health programmes were implemented by a workplace health organisation  designed to challenge people to make small sustainable lifestyle changes.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Professor Grant Schofield, Dr Scott Duncan, Nick Garrett

Collaborators: Dr Lannes Johnson, Dr Louise Schofield, Associate Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith, West Fono Health Trust, Waitemata PHO, Apollo Health and Wellness Centre  Procare, Healthy Steps Podiatry, Vitality Works

Cognitive performance and physical activity

Previous research supported the use of physical activity in older persons to ameliorate age-related declines in cognitive function. The purpose of this study was to identify the optimal intensity of physical activity required to improve cognitive performance in middle age.

The workplace provided an ideal environment in which to incorporate a physical activity intervention. Structuring the social and physical environments in which people work may make engaging in physical activity behaviour convenient and socially acceptable. The study aimed to incorporate physical activity programmes into the work environment to study any concomitant changes to the cognitive performance of its workers.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Judy Thomas and Professor Grant Schofield

Collaborators: Dr Helen Gaeta

The efficacy of workplace health programmes in the New Zealand context: how do we measure productivity?

Mikki Williden's doctoral research aimed to understand the links between health risk and productivity within the New Zealand context. An online health risk assessment (HRA) tool was developed to be administered to workplaces across New Zealand in 2008-2009 to assess health risk, health behaviours, the health culture, and their association with productivity in the workplace and the projected cost to the employer.

This was investigated in the context of the physical environment, and an audit tool assessing the physical workplace environment was used to assess any potential impacts the environment has on health behaviour and/or productivity across New Zealand organisations in 2010. Finally a more indepth analysis of workplace culture and health behaviour was conducted to explore further the relationship these factors may have on employee and organisation productivity.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Dr Mikki Williden & Professor Grant Schofield

Collaborators: Dr Clara Soper (Vitality Works Ltd)

Weight-loss maintenance in workplace and dietitian-practice settings

Caryn Zinn's doctoral research explored the topic of weightloss maintenance using a "small-changes" approach in two settings: the workplace and a private practice dietitian clinic setting. The "small-changes" approach to diet, exercise and lifestyle is one which is considered easier to implement than more traditional restrictive regimes and may therefore allow better adherence and result in more sustainable weight loss.

Human Performance Centre researchers: Dr Caryn Zinn and Professor Grant Schofield

Collaborators: Professor Will Hopkins

LCHF - Low Carb Healthy Fat

LCHF debate

TV 3's 3rd Degree aired a segment on the increasingly controversial topic of "The Benefits of Saturated Fats". Not surprisingly, as New Zealand's leading advocate of the Low Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF) living, Professor Grant Schofield played a major role in the interview. The segment highlights well-founded evidence on the merits of a diet based on the evolutionary biology and understanding of human metabolism and nutrition

Watch LCHF seminar: Challenging Beliefs

A chance to view Professor Schofield and his team at the first LCHF seminar held in October 2013.

Watch the seminar

Seminar reading list

View the reading list from the LCHF seminar.

LCHF reading list

This workplace study sets out to test the feasibility and utility of ecological momentary assessment tools (ie dual-sensor accelerometry, SMS affect mood state) to capture 24 h behavioural profiles of time use.

This research is being conducted to better understand the physical, emotional and cognitive demands of various jobs, and the role of recovery behaviours such as sleep and physical activity in mediating the relationship between job demands and burnout.

Participants are 100 Auckland-based employees of Air New Zealand.

Human Potential Centre researchers

  • Anantha Narayanan
  • Dr Lisa Mackay
  • Professor Grant Schofield
  • Dr Tom Stewart

Research themes within the Centre

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