Renee E. Walker, Dr.P.H.

Renee E. Walker is a joint Yerby Fellow and Kellogg Health Scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Lake Forest College (Lake Forest, IL), her master’s in Public Health from Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA), and her doctorate from the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh.

Research Interests and Projects

Walker’s primary research interests center around racial/ethnic and income disparities in health. She has developed culturally appropriate exercise interventions for African American and Latinas at risk for coronary heart disease and/or diabetes. At a comprehensive health center, she helped assess diabetes self-management among low-income patients. Also, she has been a consultant as part of a multidisciplinary team addressing high rates of crime and drug activity in Wilkinsburg, PA, as part of a larger effort to aid in the social and economic revitalization of the community.

Walker’s current research explores disparities in obesity with a focus on neighborhood context, including deprivation, poverty, and racial/ethnic and income inequalities. One particular interest is in the types of food stores in the neighborhood, foods offered and affordability. She uses a method known as concept mapping, which allows participants to identify, list, and organize and rate the importance of barriers according to their perception, and then integrates those results to compare groups through multivariate analysis. Her research has identified individual, familial, community and policy-level factors that influence food buying practices. Her work also identifies social services available to residents (e.g., food pantries, food vouchers, soup kitchens, etc.) are as safety nets that prevent families with poor supermarket access from experiencing hunger. Walker’s research provides empirical data to determine whether low-income households sacrifice nutritional quality for the sake of cheaper, less nutritious foods, and assists in the development of scales and instruments to measure food preferences.

Walker’s research underscores the need for increased access to affordable, healthy and nutritious foods for low-income communities, including improved public transportation options. Her work also identifies the geographic areas where interventions could be the most feasible, cost-effective, or beneficial.

Contact Information:


Walker, RE, & Kawachi, I. (2011). Race, Ethnicity, and Obesity. In J. Cawley (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Social Science of Obesity pp. 257-275. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Walker RE, Butler J, Kriska A, Keane C, Fryer CS, Burke JG (2010). How does food security impact residents of a food desert and food oasis? Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 5(4): 1-17.

Walker RE, Keane C, Burke JG. (2010) Disparities and access to healthy food in the United States: A review of food deserts literature. Health & Place 16: 876-884.

Burke JG, O’Campo P, Salmon C, Walker RE. (2009) Pathways connecting neighborhood influences and mental well-being: Socioeconomic position and gender differences.Social Science & Medicine 68(7):1294-1304.