Morris was born on 6 May 1910 in Liverpool. His Jewish family had emigrated to escape pogroms in Poland. Arriving by boat in Liverpool, the family adopted the surname of the ship's captain. His family moved to Glasgow, where Jerry was brought up in poverty. His childhood experiences of Glasgow's slums informed his later work, and led to his lifelong membership of the Labour Party, which he joined at age 16, and only left in his disgust at the Second Gulf War.
Morris was perhaps the first person to analyze data on cardiovascular disease and activity. By performing a large scale survey, he first noticed in 1949 that the sedentary drivers of London's double-decker buses had higher rates of cardiovascular disease than the conductors who climbed the stairs.  He extended the study and noticed that postmen who delivered the mail by bike or on foot had fewer heart attacks than sedentary men who served behind counters or as telephonists and clerks.
He performed further studies that showed slow movements such as gardening helped very little and exercise had to be more vigorous to help. After several years of more study, he published the seminal paper on the topic in 1958.
Jerry Morris was an early proponent of acting on what are now recognized as the social determinants of health. His association with social scientists Richard Titmuss and Brian Abel-Smith, both at the London School of Economics (LSE), influenced health policy development under the UK's Labour governments of the 1960s. A member of numerous health advisory bodies, from the first Royal College of Physicians committee on smoking and air pollution in the 1950s to the Black committee on inequalities in health in 1979, his most recent and final published work was on the minimum income required for healthy living. He played a key role in forming the Faculty of Community Medicine (now Public Health) of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom.
Jerry Morris joined the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in 1967, bringing with him the MRC's Social Medicine Research Unit, established in 1948 at the Central Middlesex Hospital. During the 1950s the Unit published seminal papers on infant mortality and the role of physical exercise in heart disease; from the late 60s to early 70s the unit focused mostly on cardiovascular disease. His textbook Uses of Epidemiology (1957) influenced public health education and the development of prevention strategies for the control of non-communicable diseases throughout much of the world. In 1970, at LSHTM, he launched the MSc in Social Medicine, delivered jointly by faculty from LSHTM and LSE.
At the Olympic Games in 1996 he was honoured with an Olympic Gold medal in recognition of excellence in the science of sport and exercise and pioneering studies into how exercise reduces the rate of heart disease. On retirement he was recognized as Emeritus Professor of Public Health at LSHTM. He died on 28 October 2009, at the age of 99 years.
A giant in the field, he influenced the career paths of public health practitioners in several countries, a number of whom he personally mentored. A witness seminar held on 21 July 2000 at LSHTM celebrated his 90th birthday. A record of this event, with presentations by Sir Michael Marmot and Sir Roger Bannister and other luminaries, has been published in association with the proceedings of a conference on Epidemiology, Social Medicine and Public Health. A survey of Jerry Morris' contribution to public health has also been published.
- Ashton JR (2000). "Professor J N "Jerry" Morris". J Epidemiol Comm Health 54: 881a. doi:10.1136/jech.54.12.881a.
- Reisz, Matthew (19 November 2009). "Obituary". Times Higher Education (London). Retrieved 1 June 2011.
- Hevesi, Dennis. "Jeremy Morris, Proved Exercise Is Heart-Healthy, Dies at 99½", The New York Times, 7 November 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
- Kuper, Simon (11 September 2009). "The man who invented exercise". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 September 2009.
- Morris JN, Heady JA, Raffle PA, Roberts CG, Parks JW (1953). "Coronary heart-disease and physical activity of work". Lancet 265 (6795): 1053–7. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(53)90665-5. PMID 13110049.
- Morris JN, Crawford MD (1958). "Coronary Heart Disease and Physical Activity of Work". BMJ 2 (5111): 1485–1496. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5111.1485. PMC 2027542. PMID 13608027.
- Morris, J; Donkin, AJM; Wonderling, D; Wilkinson, P; Dowler, EA (2000). "A minimum income for healthy living". J Epidemiol Community Health 54: 885–84. doi:10.1136/jech.54.12.885.
- Morris, JN; Deeming, C; Wilkinson, P; Dangour, AD (2010). "Action towards healthy living—for all". International Journal of Epidemiology 39: 266–273. doi:10.1093/ije/dyp403.
- Mills A. LSHTM Alumni News, 29 October 2009. http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/alumni/news/professor_jerry_morris.html
- Paffenbarger, RS; Blair, SN; Lee, I-M (2001). "A history of physical activity, cardiovascular health, and longevity: the scientific contributions of Jeremy N Morris, DSc, DPH, FRCP". Int J Epidemiol 30: 1198–206.
- Morris JN. Uses of Epidemiology. Edinburgh: Livingstone, 1957.
- Davey Smith, G (2001). "The use of 'Uses of Epidemiology'". Int J Epidemiol 30: 1160–69.
- Berridge V, Taylor S. Epidemiology, Social Medicine and Public Health. Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 2005. ISBN 1 905165 03 X http://history.lshtm.ac.uk/SocialMedicinePrint.pdf
- V. Berridge, 'Jerry Morris', International Journal of Epidemiology, 30, (2001) pp.1141-1145.