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Health Equity: A Nursing Research Perspective Heading link

Shannon Zenk

Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN
Director, National Institute of Nursing Research

Dr. Zenk’s research focuses on community environments as a social determinant of health and health inequities. She and her colleagues conducted pioneering research on food deserts in the United States. They have since gathered evidence on how food accessibility and other aspects of the built environment affect individual diet and physical activity behaviors, body mass index, and weight management intervention outcomes. To better understand how the environment affects health, Dr. Zenk and her colleagues advanced the use of a concept from behavioral geography, “activity space,” which refers to the places where people conduct their activities and spend time. They have also evaluated policies and investments that affect community environments for their impacts on health and health inequities. This work has leveraged a variety of new technologies such as mobile geographical information systems (GIS) and global positioning system (GPS) sensors and emerging data resources such as electronic health records. Dr. Zenk’s Neighborhoods and Health Lab is now housed at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Dr. Zenk was previously a Nursing Collegiate Professor in the Department of Population Health Nursing Science at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) College of Nursing, and a fellow in the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy.

Dr. Zenk was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing in 2013, received the President’s Award from the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research in 2018, was inducted into the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame in 2019, and was elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine in 2021. She has spent time as a visiting scholar in Rwanda and Australia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing, magna cum laude, from Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington; her master’s degrees in public health nursing and community health sciences from UIC; and her doctorate in health behavior and health education from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her predoctoral training was in psychosocial factors in mental health and illness, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Her dissertation examined racial and socioeconomic inequities in food access in metropolitan Detroit. She completed postdoctoral training in UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy’s Cancer Education and Career Development Program, funded by the National Cancer Institute, in 2006. In 2011, Dr. Zenk received a career development award funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research.

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