Jennifer D. Roberts is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, School of Public Health at the University of Maryland College Park (UMD). Dr. Roberts is also the Founder and Director of the Public Health Outcomes and Effects of the Built Environment (PHOEBE) Laboratory as well as the Co-Founder and Co-Director of NatureRx@UMD, an initiative that emphasizes the green space benefits interspersed throughout and around the UMD campus and acknowledges the ancestral lands of the Piscataway People as well as the historical slave trade legacies of the UMD campus land. Her scholarship focuses on the impact of built, social, and natural environments, including the institutional and structural inequities of these environments, on the public health outcomes of marginalized communities. Much of her research has explored the dynamic relationship between environmental, social, and cultural determinants of physical activity to infer complex health outcome patterns and disparities among adults and children.
PHOEBE Laboratory research, such as the Built Environment and Active Play (BEAP) and Physical Environment and Active Transportation (PEAT) Studies, have incorporated state of the art techniques (e.g. spatial analysis and GIS modeling) to objectively capture the role and relationship of physical activity determinants. Issues addressed in her physical activity and public health research program include crosscutting health issues, particularly those stemming directly from structurally racist policies and exposure (e.g. transit deserts) and outcome (e.g. obesity) disparities. Presently, Dr. Roberts is leading the Purple Line Light Rail Impact on Neighborhood, Health, and Transit (PLIGHT) Study in order to investigate changes in light rail use, active transportation, overall physical activity, obesity, and obesity-related cardiovascular risks among Prince George’s County, Maryland adults. In a prospective pre-post, case-comparison design, the PLIGHT Study will also explore how contextual effects (e.g., “sense of community”) moderate these health outcome changes with the intended 2022 introduction of this new 16.1-mile light rail line.
Dr. Roberts’ was awarded a JPB Environmental Health Fellowship by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This three-year fellowship supports another PHOEBE Laboratory research endeavor, Gauging Effects of Neighborhood Trends and Sickness (GENTS) Study: Examining the Perceptions of Transit-Induced Gentrification in Prince George’s County. GENTS will examine the risk of transit-induced gentrification and associated health outcomes (e.g., anxiety) and determinants (e.g., walkability) as related to the aforementioned Purple Line light rail.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Dr. Roberts’ graduated from Buffalo Seminary High School and received her Bachelor of Arts (AB) degree from Brown University. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and earned her Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Roberts has received research and professional development grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as well as intramural grants from UMD.