Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, FAAN
Nursing Collegiate Professor
Department of Health Systems Science
Building & Room:
845 S. Damen Ave., MC 802, Chicago, IL 60612
Dr. Zenk studies social inequalities and health, with the goal of identifying effective approaches at multiple levels to improve population health and eliminate racial/ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities. Through pioneering research on food deserts, Dr. Zenk helped bring national attention to the problem of inadequate access to healthful foods in low-income and segregated neighborhoods. Dr. Zenk has since produced crucial evidence on the health implications of these neighborhood disparities, including by leveraging electronic health record data. Using quasi-experimental study designs, she studies how intervention effectiveness depends on environmental context and evaluates policy changes. Recognizing that a sole focus on residential environments may mischaracterize environmental exposures and lead to misdirected or bypassed interventions, her other research expands environmental measurement to include “activity spaces.” Her current work is combining real-time data collection approaches (e.g., GPS tracking, smartphone surveys, food images, accelerometry) to understand how activity-space environmental exposures and personal trait and state factors (e.g., executive functioning, stress) interact to influence health behaviors in a multiethnic sample of 500 midlife adults. She collaborates on research and mentors students on a wide range of social determinants of health.
Zenk SN, Leider J, Pugach O, Pipito A, & Powell LM. (In press). Changes in beverage marketing at stores following the Oakland sugar-sweetened beverage tax. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Zenk SN, Tarlov E, Wing C, Slater S, Jones KK, Fitzgibbon M, & Powell LM. (In press). Does the built environment influence the effectiveness of a nationwide behavioral weight management program? Preventive Medicine.
Zenk SN, Matthews SA, Kraft A, & Jones KK. (2018). How many days of global positioning system (GPS) monitoring do you need to measure activity space environments in health research? Health & Place, 51, 52-60.
Zenk SN, Tarlov E, Powell LM, Wing C, Matthews SA, Slater S, Gordon H, & Fitzgibbon M. (2018). Weight and veterans’ environments study (WAVES) I and II: Rationale, methods, and cohort characteristics. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32, 779-794.
Zenk SN, Tarlov E, Wing C, Matthews S, Jones K, Tong H, & Powell L. (2017). Geographic accessibility of food outlets not associated with body mass index change among veterans, 2009-14. Health Affairs, 36, 1433-1442.
Zenk SN, Powell LM, Rimkus L, Isgor Z, Barker D, Ohri-Vachaspati P, & Chaloupka F. (2014). Relative and absolute availability of healthier food and beverage alternatives differ across communities in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 104, 2170-2178.
Zenk SN, Horoi I, McDonald A, Corte C, Riley B, & Odoms-Young A. (2014). Ecological momentary assessment of environmental and personal factors and snack food intake in African American women. Appetite, 83, 333-341.
Zenk SN, Powell LM, Odoms-Young A, Krauss R, Fitzgibbon M, Block D, & Campbell RT. (2014). Impact of the revised special supplemental nutrition program for women, Infants, and children (WIC) food package policy on fruit and vegetable prices. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114, 288-296.
Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Matthews SA, Odoms-Young A, Wilbur J, Wegrzyn L, Gibbs K, Braunschweig C, & Stokes C. (2011). Activity space environment and dietary and physical activity behaviors: A pilot study. Health & Place, 17, 1150-1161.
Zenk SN, Schulz A, Hollis-Neely T, Campbell RT, Holmes N, Watkins G, Nwankwo R, & Odoms-Young A. (2005). Fruit and vegetable intake in African Americans: Income and store characteristics. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 29, 1-9.
Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Israel BA, James SA, Bao S, & Wilson ML. (2005). Neighborhood racial composition, neighborhood poverty, and the spatial accessibility of supermarkets in metropolitan Detroit. American Journal of Public Health, 95, 660-667.
Co-Chair, HER/NOPREN Healthy Food Retail Working Group
Associate Editor, Health & Place
Associate Editor, Health Education & Behavior
Chair (2019-20) and Member (2015-19), Community Influences on Health Behavior Study Section, National Institutes of Health
2019, International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame, Sigma Theta Tau
2018, President’s Award, Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research
2017, Clinical Scholar, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
2015, Rising Star Researcher of the Year in the Social Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago
2006 Post-Doctoral Fellow, Cancer Control and Population Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago (R25TCA57699)
2004 PhD, Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan
Pre-Doctoral Trainee, Psychosocial Factors in Mental Health and Illness (T32MH16806)
1999 MS, MPH, Public Health Nursing and Community Health Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago
1995 BSN, Nursing, Illinois Wesleyan University (magna cum laude, Phi Kappa Phi)
Research Currently in Progress
R01 AG062180-01A1 (PI: Zenk) 2019-2024
NIH/National Institute on Aging
A Dynamic Environmental Exposure Approach to Study Health Behaviors in Midlife
Our objective is to address misspecification of environmental exposures ubiquitous in prior research and provide a definitive test of activity-space environment explanations for between-and within-person daily and in-the-moment diet and physical activity (PA) variations during mid-life. We hypothesize that (a) activity-space environmental exposures (e.g., healthful food availability, recreational resource availability) contribute to both between- and within-person variations in dietary and PA behaviors and more strongly influence these behaviors than residential neighborhood environments alone and (b) activity-space environmental exposures are more consequential for diet and PA when self-regulatory capacity—trait or state factors that affect a person’s ability to make efforts to regulate behavior—is diminished. We are using a rich combination of cutting-edge geographically-explicit ecological momentary assessment (GEMA) methodologies: global positioning system (GPS) location tracking; smartphone-based mini-surveys of diet, PA, and state factors; and accelerometry, as well as multiple 24-hour dietary recalls to test these hypotheses.