Melissa A. Napolitano

Interim Chair Melissa Napolitano

Melissa A. Napolitano


Professor and Interim Chair, Department of Prevention and Community Health

School: Milken Institute School of Public Health

Department: Prevention and Community Health


Office Phone: 202-994-9099
Fax: 202-994-3601
Milken Institute School of Public Health 950 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Office - 3rd Floor Washington DC 20052

Melissa Napolitano is a Professor and the Interim Chair of the Department of Prevention and Community Health. She also holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. 

Dr. Napolitano uses behavioral science principles and communication techniques to develop, implement and evaluate physical activity and weight management programs for delivery via digital strategies. Her work focuses across the lifespan, including pregnancy and young adulthood. She is interested in the developmental life stage of emerging adulthood and understanding the formation of positive eating and activity behaviors, as well as health-risk behaviors such as disordered eating and tobacco use. She has more than 90 peer reviewed publications and book chapters. Dr. Napolitano’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Napolitano was a Consultant to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, specifically working with the Physical Activity Promotion Subcommittee. She has served in review and editorial capacities as a standing member of the NIH Psychosocial Risk and Disease Prevention Study Section and Senior Associate Editor of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. She is a current Fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) and is SBM’s representative to the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Prior to joining GWU in 2012, Dr. Napolitano was on the faculties of Brown Medical School and Temple University at which she was also a research scientist at the Center for Obesity Research and Education. 

Physical activity

Cardiovascular disease


Health communication

Behavioral Health

Social connection

Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), Yale University, 1993
Doctor of Philosophy (Clinical Psychology), Duke University, 1999
Post-Doctoral Fellowship (Health Psychology/Behavioral Medicine), Brown University, 2000 


PubH 4140W: Undergraduate Senior Seminar, Writing in the Discipline. Program Planning and Evaluation

Master’s Level

PubH 6500: Planning and Implementation of Health Promotion Programs

PubH 6562: Physical Activity and Dietary Interventions for Promoting Healthy Weight


PubH 8434: Behavioral Medicine and Public Health (Co-Developed Course and Curriculum)

PubH 8427: Scientific writing and training grant development (Co-Developed Course and Curriculum)


Dr. Napolitano is a Fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) and has served in a variety of leadership, review, and editorial capacities. She is SBM’s representative to the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In 2017, she was appointed as a Consultant to the United States Department of Health and Human Services 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee as a member of the subcommittee on the Physical Activity Promotion. She was a standing member of the NIH Psychosocial Risk and Disease Prevention Study Section from 2015-2019 and Senior Associate Editor of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health from 2016-2020. She is currently an appointed Member of the Strategic Health Initiative on Obesity for the American College of Sports Medicine.


As part of the field learning experience for PubH 6500, Dr. Napolitano and her students work directly with non-profit agencies to address public health topics and areas of need for the clients. The class works in teams on a grant proposal related to one of the top health domains. The projects target a health domain and specifically focus on changing a behavior or social topic (i.e., physical activity, social connection, falls among the elderly). Groups present their program plan to the class and agency; the top two proposals are selected for possible funding submission by the Agency.

Dr. Napolitano's research is focused on delivering evidence based psychosocial interventions for physical activity and weight management through innovative digital delivery channels. Her work specifically addresses physical activity promotion, weight loss, and prevention of weight gain at various life stages including young adulthood and during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Dr. Napolitano's research leverages digital tools and health communication strategies to improve cardiovascular and metabolic health and reduce health disparities. This research has high translation potential and is well-suited for developing multidisciplinary partnerships. 

Her current and recently funded projects include:

Understanding associations between timing of physical activity and health outcomes in young adults

The research component of this predoctoral fellowship training award examines the association of the timing of physical activity and health outcomes, specifically cardiometabolic risk and obesity.
Funding agency: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (#F31 HL167355)
Project period: August 2023-May 2024 
Role: Mentor; Principal Investigator: Bailey

Translation of social media obesity treatment into two college campus communities
This two-site randomized controlled trial examined the efficacy of digital strategies for promoting weight management and cardiometabolic health among young adults.
Funding agency: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (R01DK100916)
Project period: May 2014-April 2019, no cost extension through 2022
Role: Principal Investigator

Examining appetite regulation in weight loss treatment responders versus non-responders
This study examined behavioral and physiological mechanisms of appetite and weight regulation and how these factors affect treatment responsiveness.
Funding agency: (internal) The George Washington University
Project period: June 2019-June 2020, no cost extension through 2021
Role: MPI (with DiPietro)

Fit4Mom: Digital Healthy Weight Program for African American Postpartum Women
Through this project, the investigative team developed, implemented and evaluated an app for healthy weight management following pregnancy among African American/Black women. The app includes innovative components such as audience co-creation, branding, and interactive goal-setting, tracking and feedback.  
Funding agency: NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (R21 MD011652)                                                             
Project period: July 2017-June 2019  
Role: Multiple Principal Investigator (MPI), along with Evans and Harrington  

Low Intensity Post Meal Walking and Glycemic Control in Older People 
The purpose of this study was examine whether low-intensity post-meal walking is an effective counter-measure to prolonged sitting for improving glycemic control and metabolic flexibility in older people at risk for type 2 diabetes
Funding agency: National Institute on Aging (R56 AG050661)    
Project period: September 2015-September 2017
Role: Co-Investigator (DiPietro, PI)

EatRight.Edu: Development and usability testing of a nutrition and healthy eating educational platform (Posey, Co-PI) 
The goal of this research grant was to conduct the formative work to develop and usability test an eLearning platform to promote healthy eating and physical activity for the prevention of weight gain among college students.      
Funding agency: (internal) The George Washington University 
Project period: January 2013-December 2013
Role: MPI (with Posey)

Sample listing from 2021-present (*denotes student or trainee):   

  1. Napolitano, M.A., Harrington, C.B., Patchen, L., Ellis, L., Ma, T., Gaminian, A. Bailey, C.* Evans, W.D. (2021). Feasibility of a digital intervention to promote healthy weight management among postpartum African-American/Black women. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4), 2178.
  2. Napolitano, M.A., Whiteley, J.A., Mavredes, M.N., Tjaden, A.H., Simmens, S., Hayman, L.L., Faro, J.*, Malin, S. DiPietro, L. (2021). Effect of tailoring on weight loss among young adults receiving digital interventions: An 18-Month Randomized Controlled Trial. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 11(4), 970-980.
  3. Whiteley, J.A., Faro, J.*, Mavredes, M., Hayman, L.L., & Napolitano, M.A. (2021). Application of social marketing to recruitment for a digital weight management intervention for young adults. Translational Behavioral Medicine. 11(2), 484-494.
  4. Bennett, M.*, Gu.*, J., Whiteley, J.A., Gu, J., Gaminian, A.* & Napolitano, M. A. (2022). A qualitative investigation of the need for and feasibility of weight loss programs on university campuses. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, 16(1):72-81.
  5. Ingersoll, R.N.*, Bailey, C.B.*, Mavredes, M., Wang, Y., Napolitano, M.A.  (2022). Dietary behaviors, physical activity, and reported role models among young adults with overweight and obesity. Emerging Adulthood, 10(3), 679-688.
  6. Napolitano, M.A., Tjaden, A., Bailey, C.P.*, DiPietro, L., & Rimal, R. (2022). What moves young people: Applying the Risk Perception Attitude framework to physical activity and cardiometabolic risk. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 12(6), 742-751.
  7. Arnold, J.*, Bailey, C.P., Evans, W.D. & Napolitano, M.A. (2022). Communication, persuasion, and Facebook messaging: Measuring the effectiveness of Facebook posts in the Healthy Body, Healthy U study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(21),14275;
  8. DiPietro, L., Rimal, R., Tjaden, A., Bailey, C.P.*, DiPietro, L., & Napolitano, M.A. (2022). Is the risk perception attitude framework associated with the accuracy of self-reported versus actual cardiometabolic risk and physical activity in young adults? American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 12(6), 742–751.
  9. Lepping, K.*, Mavredes, M., Faro, J., Bailey, C.P.*, & Napolitano, M.A. (2023). Physical activity and stress management behaviors among university students. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 17(4), 601-606.
  10. Napolitano, M.A., Bailey, C.P.*, Mavredes, M.N., Neighbors, C.J., Whiteley, J.A., Long, M.W. Hayman, L.L. Malin, S.K., & DiPietro, L. (2023). Personalized versus generic digital weight loss interventions delivered on university campuses: a 6-month cost-benefit analysis. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 13(6), 358–367. 
  11. Major, L.*, Simonsick, E., Napolitano, M.A. & DiPietro, L. (2023). Domains of sedentary behavior and cognitive function: The Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study. Journal of Gerontology: Series A, 78, 2035-2041
  12. Bailey, C.P.* Quin, J., DiPietro, L., Napolitano, M.A. (2023, Accepted). Timing of exercise among young adults previously enrolled in a randomized controlled weight management trial: An observational study. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.  Advance online publication:
  13. Whiteley, J.A., Tjaden, A.H., Bailey, C.P., Faro, J., DiPietro, L., Hayman, L.L., & Napolitano, M.A. (2024, Accepted). Engagement with digital weight loss intervention components and weight outcomes. Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science.