Food access: Shannon N. Zenk

THE PROBLEM:

In the mid-2000s, residents in low-income and black neighborhoods in Detroit, Chicago and other U.S. cities were reporting lack of access to healthy foods, a circumstance now often described as “food deserts.” Residential environment, including healthy food availability, parks and walkability, clearly was related to obesity and health, but how?

THE RESEARCH:

Shannon Zenk examining grocery offerings

Nursing Collegiate Professor Shannon Zenk, PhD, MS ’99, MPH, RN, FAAN, was among the first researchers to identify food deserts. Now, with few longitudinal studies to date, she is using electronic health record data from the Veterans Administration to lead a seven-year retrospective cohort study of the impact of the residential environment on obesity and metabolic risk (blood pressure, lipids, glucose) in more than 3 million adults nationwide. Even more novel is her work using GPS technology to conduct one of the first studies on “activity space” (locations where people conduct activities) and obesity-related behaviors, so that her perspective incorporates environmental exposures throughout the day as well as residential environments.