Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN

  • Professor

Dr. Zenk's goal is to promote health equity by creating supportive environments where people live, work, and play. To achieve this goal, she advances science on socio-environmental determinants of dietary and physical activity behaviors and identifies effective environmental and policy approaches to improve population health and reduce socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequities. Through multiple studies in Detroit, Chicago, and nationwide, Dr. Zenk has shown that poor access to healthy foods is widespread in low-income and segregated black neighborhoods and associated with lower dietary quality and higher body weight. Recognizing that the typical sole focus on residential environments may mischaracterize environmental exposures, Dr. Zenk has conducted some of the first research on activity space (where people conduct activities) environments and diet and physical activity. Dr. Zenk is also interested in evaluating the health impacts of policy and environmental changes, and how the environment may affect individuals’ ability to succeed in behavioral interventions. She recently completed two years of data collection (2015, 2016) to evaluate the new $95 million 606 Park and Trail System in Chicago. 

One of her current studies is the Weight and Veterans' Environments Study (WAVES). She engages students from multiple disciplines in this work in the UIC Neighborhoods + Health Research Group.

Current Area of Teaching
  • Neighborhoods and Health
  • Measurement for Health Research


Student Opportunities

Dr. Zenk welcomes opportunities to work with students interested in social determinants of health, particularly the role of place, and committed to social justice and health equity. She mentors students from multiple disciplines in data analysis, co-authoring scientific publications and presentations, and utilizing a variety of data collection methodologies (e.g., direct observation, surveys) and technologies (e.g., GPS, GIS).


Service / Practice
  • Standing Member, Community Influences on Health Behavior Study Section, National Institutes of Health
  • Co-Chair, Health Behavior Expert Panel, American Academy of Nursing
  • Journal of Urban Health, Editorial Board Member
  • Ethnicity & Health, Associate Editor
  • Health & Place, Associate Editor
  • Healthy Food Retail Working Group
Selected Honors & Awards
  • Rising Star Researcher of the Year in the Social Sciences, UIC (2016)
  • Visiting Scholar, University of Rwanda, Rwanda (2015)
  • Fellow, American Academy of Nursing (2013)
  • Visiting Scholar, Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, Deakin University, Australia (2013)
  • Distinguished Alumna Award for Excellence in Nursing, Illinois Wesleyan University (2012)
  • Harriett Werley New Investigator Award, Midwest Nursing Research Society (2011)
  • Nurse Faculty Scholar, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2010-2013)
Selected Publications
  • Zenk SN, Tarlov E, Wing C, Matthews S, Jones K, Tong H, & Powell L. (In press). Geographic accessibility of food outlets not associated with body mass index change among veterans, 2009-14. Health Affairs.
  • Zenk SN, Tarlov E, Powell LM, Wing C, Matthews SA, Slater S, Gordon H, & Fitzgibbon M. (In press). Weight and veterans’ environments study (WAVES) I and II: Rationale, methods, and cohort characteristics. American Journal of Health Promotion.
  • Zenk SN, Mentz G, Schulz AJ, Johnson-Lawrence V, & Gaines C. (2017). Longitudinal associations between observed and perceived neighborhood food availability and BMI in a multiethnic urban sample. Health Education & Behavior, 57, 446-462.
  • Zenk SN, Horoi I, Jones KJ, Finnegan L, Corte C, Riley B, & Wilbur J. (2017). Environmental and personal correlates of physical activity and sedentary behavior in African American women: An ecological momentary assessment study. Women & Health, 44, 41-51.
  • Zenk SN, Powell LM, Isgor Z, Rimkus L, Barker D, & Chaloupka F. (2015). Prepared food availability in U.S. food stores: A national study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 49, 553-562.
  • 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, Slater S, & Rashid S. (2014). Collecting contextual health survey data using systematic observation. In T Johnson (Ed.), Handbook of health survey methods (pp. 421-445). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.
  • 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, Thatcher E, Reina M, & Odoms-Young A. (2014). Local food environments and diet-related health outcomes: A systematic review of local food environments, body weight, and other diet-related health outcomes. In K Morland (Ed.), Local food environments: Food access in America (pp. 167-204). Baton Rouge, FL: CRC Press.
  • 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, Israel BA, Mentz G, Miranda PY, Opperman A, & Odoms-Young A. (2014). Food shopping behaviours and exposure to discrimination. Public Health Nutrition, 17, 1167-1176.
  • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Izumi B, Mentz G, Israel BA, & Lockett M. (2013). Neighborhood food environment role in modifying psychosocial stress-diet relationships. Appetite, 65, 170-177.
  • Zenk SN, Odoms-Young A, Powell LM, Campbell RT, Block D, Chavez N, Krauss R, Strode S, & Armbruster J. (2012). Fruit and vegetable availability and selection: Federal food package revisions, 2009. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 43, 423-428.
  • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Izumi B, Sand SL, Lockett M, & Odoms-Young A. (2012). Development, evolution, and implementation of the food environment audit for diverse neighborhoods. In BA Israel, E Eng, AJ Schulz, and E Parker (Eds.), Methods for conducting community-based participatory research for health (2nd Ed.) (pp. 277-304). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Odoms-Young A, Wilbur J, Matthews SA, Gamboa C, Wegrzyn L, Hobson S, & Stokes C. (2012). Feasibility of using global positioning systems (GPS) with diverse urban adults: Before and after data on perceived acceptability, wear-related concerns, and ease of use. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 9, 924-934.
  • 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, Odoms-Young A, Dallas C, Hardy E, Watkins A, Wroten J, & Holland L. (2011). “You have to hunt for the fruits, the vegetables”: Environmental barriers and adaptive strategies to acquire food in a low-income African-American neighborhood. Health Education & Behavior, 38, 282-292. 
  • Zenk SN, Lachance LL, Schulz AJ, Mentz G, Kannan S, & Ridella W. (2009). Neighborhood retail food environment and fruit and vegetable intake in multiethnic urban adults. American Journal of Health Promotion, 23, 255-264. 
  • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Lachance L, Mentz G, Kannan S, Ridella W, & Galea S. (2009). Multilevel correlates of satisfaction with neighborhood availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 38, 48-59.
  • Zenk SN, Wilbur J, Wang E, McDevitt J, Oh A, Block R, McNeil S, & Savar N. (2009). Neighborhood environment and adherence to a walking intervention in African-American women. Health Education & Behavior, 36, 167-181.
  • Zenk SN, & Powell L. (2008). U.S. secondary schools and food outlets. Health & Place, 14, 336-346.
  • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Odoms-Young A, & Lockett M. (2009). Interdisciplinary, participatory research to understand urban food environments and dietary behaviors. In N Freudenberg, S Saegert, and S Klitzman (Eds.), Urban health and society interdisciplinary approaches to research and practice (pp. 45-62), San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Zenk SN, Schulz A, Mentz G, House JS, Gravlee CC, Miranda PY, Miller P, & Kannan, S. (2007). Inter-rater and test-retest reliability: Methods and results for the neighborhood observational checklist. Health & Place, 13, 452-465.
  • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Israel BA, James SA, Bao S, & Wilson ML. (2006). Fruit and vegetable access differs by community racial composition and socioeconomic position in Detroit, Michigan. Ethnicity & Disease, 16, 275-280.
  • 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.
  • Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, House JS, Benjamin A, & Kannan S. (2005). Application of community-based participatory research in the design of an observational tool: The neighborhood observational checklist. In BA Israel, E Eng, AJ Schulz, and E Parker (Eds.), Methods for conducting community-based participatory research for health (pp. 167-187). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Current Research

NIH/National Cancer Institute
Activity Space and Measuring Environmental Exposure in Behavioral Research
Role: Multiple Principal Investigator (with Matthews S, Pennsylvania State University)

NIH/National Cancer Institute
Environmental Attributes and Weight Control: Study of Over 1.3 Million Veterans
Role: Multiple Principal Investigator (with Tarlov E, Hines VA Hospital and UIC)

Bloomberg Philanthropies ($4,705,991)
Evaluation of Local-Level Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxation in the United States
Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Powell L)   

NIH/National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities
Social Stressors and Inflammation: A Mixed Methods Approach to Preterm Birth
Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Giurgescu C, Wayne State University)

NIH/National Institute on Aging
Myelin Markers and Modifiable Risks of Vascular Aging in African Americans
Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Lamar M)

NIH/National Institute on Aging
Segregation, Pharmacy Characteristics, and Disparities in Statin Adherence
Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Qato D)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Illinois Prevention Research Center
Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Powell L; Applied Research Project PI: Slater S)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
IPRC-NOPREN: Assessing Policies Aimed at Creating Healthy Food Environments
Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Powell L)

IIR 13-085
Department of Veterans Affairs
Improving VA Weight Management Outcomes: Role of the Residential Environment
Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Tarlov E, Hines VA Hospital and UIC)

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