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. More specifically, much of her research has explored the dynamic relationship between environmental, social, and cultural determinants of physical activity and using empirical evidence of this relationship 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 including spatial analysis and geographic information system modeling in order to objectively capture the role and relationship of physical activity determinants. While relying heavily on quantitative and qualitative data, crosscutting health issues, particularly those stemming directly from structurally racist policies, along with exposure (e.g. transit deserts) and outcome (e.g. obesity) disparities, have also been addressed in her physical activity and public health research program. 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, a population comprised of over 80% African American and Hispanic residents who are predominately obese or overweight. 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. While the introduction of light rail in communities often encourages physical activity by way of active transportation or human-powered movement, such as walking or biking, gentrification is often an unintended consequence and socioeconomic by-product of these types of transit-oriented developments.