Photo of Zenk, Shannon N.

Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, FAAN

Nursing Collegiate Professor

Department of Health Systems Science


Building & Room:

924 NURS


845 S. Damen Ave., MC 802, Chicago, IL 60612

Office Phone:

(312) 355-2790



Dr. Zenk seeks to improve population health and eliminate inequities by understanding and addressing socio-environmental determinants of health. 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 uses GPS tracking and ecological momentary assessment to understand real-time environmental and psychosocial factors that influence health behaviors. She has published over 110 journal articles and book chapters. The National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have funded her research. She collaborates on research and mentors students on a wide range of social determinants of health.

Selected Publications

Zenk SN, Tarlov E, Wing C, Slater S, Jones KK, Fitzgibbon M, & Powell LM. (2019). 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.

Professional Leadership

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

Notable Honors

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.