Jason Purnell

Speech Topics

The St. Louis region became the focus of international attention after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in the suburban town of Ferguson in August of 2014. Just months before, Jason Purnell led a team of researchers from Washington University and Saint Louis University that partnered with the community to produce For the Sake of All: A Report on the Health and Well-Being of African Americans in St. Louis—and Why It Matters for Everyone. It not only documented the racial disparities in education, economic status, and health that had long plagued the St. Louis region, but also pointed to solutions for coordinated action to address them. It was a key source for the Ferguson Commission appointed by Missouri’s governor to uncover the underlying social and economic factors leading to protests and unrest. Learn more about the report and the ambitious cross-sector, collaborative work that has emerged from it to make St. Louis a region that works for the sake of all.

The United States spends 18% of GDP on medical care, but it’s health outcomes lag those of its wealthy peers. Public health and medical researchers have long known that healthcare only contributes to 10-20% of health outcomes like disease, disability, and premature death. Far more powerful are lifestyle behaviors (e.g., smoking, physical activity, and health diets) and the social and economic conditions that shape them (e.g., education, income, and wealth). Communicating the importance of what are called the social determinants of health and advancing policies and practices to address them has been a central focus of Jason Purnell’s applied research agenda. Learn about this crucial area of work in order to advance the health of individual communities and the nation as a whole.


Jason Purnell is an associate professor in the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. He is trained in both applied psychology and public health. Dr. Purnell leads the For the Sake of All project, a multidisciplinary civic education and mobilization initiative highlighting the regional significance of disparities in health and life outcomes for African Americans in St. Louis, MO. The project and a report by the same name released in May 2014 have been a critical resource in the wake of the unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in the suburban St. Louis city of Ferguson in August of that year. Several of the report’s recommendations are included among the signature calls to action of the Ferguson Commission appointed by the Missouri’s governor. Purnell and his team and partners have been instrumental in convening cross-sector stakeholders for strategic response to disparities in health, education, and economic status.

Dr. Purnell’s research focuses on health equity and the social determinants of health, with a special emphasis on the social, cultural, and economic factors that influence health behaviors and health outcomes. He is also interested in how communities can be mobilized to respond to health inequity. His work has been published in leading scientific journals such as JAMA, American Journal of Public Health, Annual Review of Public Health, and Journal of Clinical Oncology. Significant interest in For the Sake of All has led to coverage by The Huffington Post, CNN, NPR, the Washington Post, Bloomberg Businessweek, Mclean’s (Canada), Korea Times (Korea), the “Joe Madison Show” on SiriusXM Radio, vox.com, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Dr. Purnell graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, with a bachelor’s degree in government and philosophy. His doctoral degree in counseling psychology is from The Ohio State University, and his master’s in public health is from the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry. Dr. Purnell is also a licensed psychologist in the State of Missouri.

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