Meet the Scientist Geoffrey Whitfield

Posted on by Blog Administrator

The NCEH/ATSDR “Meet the Scientist” series provides insight into the work of talented people who are working to keep you safe and secure from things in the environment that threaten our nation’s health. Meet CDC/NCEH epidemiologist, Geoffrey Whitfield, who is also a triathlete and an amateur woodworker. Find out how he fuses his love of exercise with achieving safer and healthier neighborhoods in the U.S.


CDC/NCEH epidemiologist Geoffrey Whitfield. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Whitfield
CDC/NCEH epidemiologist Geoffrey Whitfield. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Whitfield

Geoffrey (“Jeff”) Whitfield is a CDC/NCEH epidemiologist who is originally from Austin, Texas. He affectionately refers to it as the land of “barbecue and hippies.” He has a B.A. in Spanish, an M.Ed. in Exercise Physiology, and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology. He was one of the first two doctoral graduates from the Austin Campus of the University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH in May 2013). For 15 years, he has been married to his wife, Mandy, a school teacher. “We married young but when it’s right, it’s right! We have two kids: Ashlyn, who’s nine, a voracious reader and budding gymnast, and Liam Cruz, who’s three, leads with his head, and is very stubborn!”

After getting his undergraduate degree, Jeff became an insurance software consultant. “For me, it was a paycheck without a purpose, and very unsatisfying. I knew I wanted to do something in health and wellness. At the time I was a serious triathlon addict, so I completed a master’s in exercise physiology. I worked for three years in a cardiac rehabilitation clinic as a clinical exercise physiologist, but knew that I could do more as a researcher or teacher. So, I decided to pursue my Ph.D.”

Just before graduating, Jeff was accepted into CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). “I matched with the Healthy Community Design Initiative and after my two years as an EIS officer, CDC/NCEH offered me a job. Given my interests in bicycling and walking for transportation, it was a perfect fit. This is largely because I am interested in how the built environment impacts health and health behaviors.”

Notable Contributions to Public Health

While at CDC/NCEH, Jeff has worked on transportation-related physical activity. He led an implementation of the Integrated Transportation and Health Impact Modeling (ITHIM) Tool in Nashville, Tennessee. This tool suggested that even modest changes to walking and biking in that city could save around 70 lives per year and defray $30 million in health care and lost productivity costs per year. “We’ve also just completed the first MMWR Surveillance Summary on active transportation at the national level. This project looked at data from five surveillance systems spanning 14 years. The purpose of this research was to compare the different ways that transportation-related walking and bicycling are measured in the US, identify any trends in prevalence over time, and identify subgroups that consistently report more or less walking and bicycling for transportation. “I firmly believe the work we are doing in the Healthy Community Design Initiative is creating greater appreciation of the links between the built environment, transportation, and health outcomes.”

Recent Awards and Publications

In July 2015, Jeff received the following two awards:

Parking Prices and Walking/Biking to Work in US Cities

Jeff received the Mitch Singal award for excellence in Occupational/Environmental Health at the 2015 EIS conference. He received this award for work that examined parking prices and walking or biking to work across 107 US cities. According to Jeff, “We found that in more densely-populated cities, walking to work was 3.4% higher for every additional dollar per day charged to park across a sample of 90 cities.”

Health Impact Modeling

Jeff and his coauthors recently presented their work centered on health impact modeling in Nashville at the first annual International Conference on Transportation and Health, held in London recently. “It was an honor to present and win an award for the top scoring practitioner abstract.”

Current Work Projects

Jeff’s interests lie squarely in physical activity and public health. “One thing I ask myself about all projects is how will this reduce barriers to walking or biking? It is very difficult to get people to be physically active through structured exercise programs.  But designing neighborhoods, towns, and cities that let people walk and ride bikes safely and efficiently for both leisure and daily activities, could get more people to be physically active.”

Our work with the ITHIM tool in Tennessee lent support for improving walking and biking infrastructure throughout the region. Details about possible outcomes really drive home the link between transportation and health. We’re now looking at ways to use the techniques piloted in Nashville in other geographic areas throughout the nation.”

Jeff participating in a 50k trail race in 2011 in Texas. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Whitfield
Jeff participating in a 50k trail race in 2011 in Texas. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Whitfield

Most Rewarding Aspect of Work

Simply stated—“Impact. We make a difference at CDC in people living healthier lives and that       energizes me!

Interests and Hobbies Outside Work

“I’m a competitive runner, cyclist, and recovering triathlete. I’m not training and racing too seriously right now, but may do so as a master’s athlete when my kids are older. I really enjoy cycling at the moment, but I tend to rotate sports as I get bored. I plan to race a short duathlon in Dawsonville, Georgia in October.

I also enjoy building things. I built a small kayak out of wood and fiberglass a few years back and plan to build a camping trailer one of these days.”

Hope you enjoyed reading about CDC/NCEH scientist Geoffrey Whitfield.

Read about other NCEH/ATSDR scientists in our “Meet the Scientist” series.

Posted on by Blog Administrator

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments posted become a part of the public domain, and users are responsible for their comments. This is a moderated site and your comments will be reviewed before they are posted. Read more about our comment policy »

Page last reviewed: October 19, 2015
Page last updated: October 19, 2015