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Jennifer D. Roberts

Jennifer D. Roberts

Associate Professor, Kinesiology

Jennifer D. Roberts is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Her scholarship focuses on the impact of built, social and natural environments, including the institutional and structural inequities of these environments, on physical activity and public health outcomes of marginalized communities.  She is also the Executive Founding Director of the Wekesa Earth Center, Co-Founder/Co-Director of NatureRx@UMD, and Director of the Public Health Outcomes and Effects of the Built Environment (PHOEBE) Laboratory.


Location: SPH 2136 | Phone: (301) 405-7748



Areas of Interest

Core Faculty

Physical Activity; Built, Social and Natural Environments; Health Disparities; Health Equity; Environmental Racism

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.  In recognition of her NatureRx@UMD accomplishments, Dr. Roberts was awarded an REI Cooperative Action Fund to create and establish the Wekesa Earth Center, a collaborative effort of scholarship and recognition across multiple disciplines to promote equity, reconciliation, and healing in nature. She serves as Executive Founding Director of the Wekesa Earth Center and oversees the four center arms: (1) research; (2) recognition; (3) programs; and (4) dissemination.

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.

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 Maryland Purple Line light rail, a new 16.1-mile light rail train with intended operation in 2026.  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.

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.  Dr. 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.  She was invited to be a Visiting Researcher at the University of Otago School of Physical Education, Sport, and Exercise Sciences in Dunedin, New Zealand where she spent a month collaborating with international researchers.

Dr.PH Environmental Health Sciences, 2004

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

MPH Environmental and Occupational Health, 2000

Emory University Rollins School of Public Health

A.B. Health and Society, 1996

Brown University

HNUH 218V - Black Bodies and Green Spaces: From 1619 to Today

KNES 401 - Zip Code: Its Prediction on Physical Activity and Public Health

KNES 497 - Built Environment, Physical Activity and Public Health

KNES 600 - Kinesiology in Public Health

KNES 601 - Epidemiology of Physical Activity

University Honors Faculty Fellow, Honors College at University of Maryland College Park, 2021-2024

Muriel R. Sloan Communitarian Award, 2019

Dean Nominated Honoree of Inaugural Maryland Research Excellence Celebration, 2019 

Featured Faculty in UMD Terp Magazine - "These Commutes are Made for Walking - Professor Explores How Built Environments Affect Health", 2017 

Yancey and Darlene Edgley Fellowship for Health Promotion, Physical Fitness and Community Health Education Conference Travel Award, 2017

Inducted to Gamma Zeta Chapter of Delta Omega National Honorary Society for Public Health, 2016

National Research Mentoring Network Academic and Professional Development Conference Travel Award, 2015

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections Seventh Annual Symposium Travel Award, 2013

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections Research and Coaching Clinic Travel Award, 2012

“The Daily Record's” Very Important Professionals Successful By 40 Award, 2012

U.S. Environmental Protections Agency Appreciation Award, Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC), 2011

Malcolm X University, Second Annual Science Careers Seminar Series Honoree, 2010

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 5 Women’s Program, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Honoree, 2010

Select Publications:

Roberts JD. (2023).  From Cold Fronts and Real Humans to Intersecting Issues and Promoting Equity: A Recap of the 2023 Active Living Conference. Journal of Healthy Eating and Active LivingPMC10699859.

Roberts JD. (2023). The ‘Natural’ Accord of DuBois and Washington: An Environmentally Racialized Consciousness. The American Journal of Health Promotion.  doi/10.1177/08901171231210806c.

Roberts JD. (2023) From Environmental Racism To Environmental Reparation: The Story of One American City. Journal of Physical Activity and Health​.  doi: 10.1123/jpah.2023-0338.

Wu S. and Roberts JD. (2022). Transit Justice: Community Perceptions and Anticipations of a New Light Rail Transit Line. Cities and Health.

Croft K., Hamovit N., Guangxiao H., Roberts JD., Niemeier D. (2022). Assessing Vulnerabilities Underlying Racial Disparities of COVID-19 Mortality in Louisiana. PNAS.

Boeing G., Higgs C., Liu S. Giles-Corti B., Sallis JF., Cerin E., Lowe M., Adlakha D., Hinckson E., Moudon AV., Salvo D., Adams MA., Barrozo LV., Bozovic T., Callejo GV., Delclòs-Alió X., Dygrýn J., Ferguson A., Gebel K., Ho TP., Lai, P., Martori JC., Kornsupha N., Queralt A., Roberts JD., Sambo GH., Schipperjin J. Using Open Data and Open-Source Software to Develop Spatial Indicators of Urban Design and Transport Features for Achieving Healthy and Sustainable Cities: A 25 City Study. (2022) The Lancet Global

Roberts JD. Black Bodies: It’s Time to Reclaim Our Green Space Freedom. (2022) Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living. 2(1), 1-4. PMC10521987.

Roberts JD., Dickinson KL., Hendricks MD, Jennings V. “I Can’t Breathe”: Examining the Legacy of American Racism on Determinants of Health and the Ongoing Pursuit of Environmental Justice. (2022) Current Environmental Health Reports.

Dickinson KL., Roberts JD., Banacos, N., Neiberger L., Koebele EA., Blanch-Hartigan D., Shanahan EA. (2021). Structural Racism and the COVID-19 Experience in the United States.   Health Security.  doi: 10.1089/hs.2021.0031.

Roberts JD., Ada M., and Jette SL. (2021). NatureRx.@.UMD: A Review for Pursuing Green Space as a Health and Wellness Resource for the Body, Mind and Soul. American Journal of Health 10.1177/0890117120970334d.

Hu M., Roberts JD., Azevedo GP, Milner D. (2021). The Role of the Built and Social Environments in COVID-19 Transmission: A Look at America's Capital City. Sustainable Cities and Society.

Roberts JD., Dickinson KL, Koebele EA, Albright EA, Neiberger L, Bancos N., Blanch-Hartigan D., Welston-Mitchell C. (2020). Clincians, Cooks, and Cashiers: Examining Health Equity and the COVID-19 Risks to Essential Workers. Toxicology and Healthdoi:10.1177/0748233720970439.

Roberts JD. and Tehrani SO. (2020). Environments, Buildings and Inequalities: Reflecting on the Impact and Reimagining a New Normal in Response to the COVID-19 PandemicInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(12).

Stone EA. and Roberts JD. (2020). Park Spaces and the User Experience: Reconsidering the Body in Park Analysis Tools. Journal of Nature and Culture, 15(2)

Tehrani SO., Wu SJ., Roberts JD. (2019). The Color of Health: Residential Segregation, Light Rail Transit Developments, and Gentrification in the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(19). doi: 10.3390/ ijerph16193683.​

Roberts JD., Mandic S., Fryer CS., Brachman ML., Ray R. (2019). Between privilege and oppression: An intersectional analysis of active transportation experiences among Washington DC area youth. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(8). doi:10.3390/ijerph16081313.

Roberts JD., Rodkey L., Ray R., Saelens B. (2018). Don’t forget about public transportation: Analysis of the association of active transportation to school among Washington DC area children with parental perceived built environment measures. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 15(7). doi: 10.1123/jpah.2017-0266​. 

Roberts JD., Rodkey L., Ray R., Knight B., Saelens B. (2017). Electronic media time and sedentary behaviors in children: Findings from the Built Environment and Active Play Study in the Washington DC Area. Preventive Medicine Reports, 6. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2017.02.021.

Roberts JD., Knight B., Ray R., Saelens. (2016). Parental perceived built environment measures and active play in Washington DC Metropolitan children. Preventive Medicine Reports, 3. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.04.001.

Roberts JD., Ray R., Biles A., Knight B., Saelens B. (2015). Built environment and active play among D.C. Metropolitan children: A protocol for a cross-sectional study. Archives of Public Health. 73(22). doi:10.1186/s13690-015-0070-3.

Roberts JD., Voss JD., Knight B. (2014). Physical inactivity, ambient air pollution and obesity in the United States. PLoS ONE. 9(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090143.


Complete Publication List: